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Title: A Honeymoon in Space
Author: Griffith, George Chetwynd, 1857-1906
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Honeymoon in Space" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



A HONEYMOON IN SPACE

by

GEORGE GRIFFITH

Author of "Valdar the Oft-Born," "The Virgin of the Sun," "The Rose of
Judah," &c., &c.

Illustrated by Stanley Wood and Harold Piffard



London
C. Arthur Pearson Ltd.
Henrietta Street
1901

Arno Press
A New York Times Company
New York--1975
Reprint Edition 1974 by Arno Press Inc.

Reprinted from a copy in The Library
of the University of California, Riverside



A Honeymoon in Space



[Illustration: "_The Earth, the Earth--thank God, the Earth!_"]



Contents


PROLOGUE--The First Cruise of the _Astronef_

Chapter I.

Chapter II.

Chapter III.

Chapter IV.

Chapter V.

Chapter VI.

Chapter VII.

Chapter VIII.

Chapter IX.

Chapter X.

Chapter XI.

Chapter XII.

Chapter XIII.

Chapter XIV.

Chapter XV.

Chapter XVI.

Chapter XVII.

Chapter XVIII.

Chapter XIX.

Chapter XX.

Epilogue



List of Illustrations


"THE EARTH, THE EARTH--THANK GOD, THE EARTH!"

A HIDEOUS SHAPE ROSE OUT OF THE WATER BEHIND THEM

IT TOOK THE STRANGE-WINGED CRAFT AMIDSHIPS

SNOW PEAKS AND CLOUD SEAS

CAME FORWARD TO MEET THEM WITH BOTH HANDS OUTSTRETCHED

WHOLE MOUNTAIN RANGES OF GLOWING LAVA WERE HURLED UP MILES HIGH

WITHOUT ANY APPARENT EFFORT HE RAISED HER ABOUT FIVE FEET FROM THE FLOOR

THE HUGE PALELY LUMINOUS EYES LOOKED IN UPON THEM



PROLOGUE

THE FIRST CRUISE OF THE _ASTRONEF_


About eight o'clock on the morning of the 5th of November, 1900, those
of the passengers and crew of the American liner _St. Louis_ who
happened, whether from causes of duty or of their own pleasure, to be on
deck, had a very strange--in fact a quite unprecedented experience.

The big ship was ploughing her way through the long, smooth rollers at
her average twenty-one knots towards the rising sun, when the officer in
charge of the navigating bridge happened to turn his glasses straight
ahead. He took them down from his eyes, rubbed the two object-glasses
with the cuff of his coat, and looked again. The sun was shining through
a haze which so far dimmed the solar disc that it was possible to look
straight at it without inconvenience to the eyes.

The officer took another long squint, put his glasses down, rubbed his
eyes and took another, and murmured, "Well I'm damned!"

Just then the Fourth Officer came up on to the bridge to relieve his
senior while he went down for a cup of coffee and a biscuit. The Second
took him away to the other end of the bridge, out of hearing of the
helmsman and the quartermaster standing by, and said almost in a
whisper:

"Say, Norton, there's something ahead there that I can't make out. Just
as the sun got clear above the horizon I saw a black spot go straight
across it, right through the upper and lower limbs. I looked again, and
it was plumb in the middle of the disc. Look," he went on, speaking
louder in his growing excitement, "there it is again! I can see it
without the glasses now. See?"

The Fourth did not reply at once. He had the glasses close to his eyes,
and was moving them slowly about as though he were following some
shifting object in the sky. Then he handed them back, and said:

"If I didn't believe the thing was impossible I should say that's an
air-ship; but, for the present, I guess I'd rather wait till it gets a
bit nearer, if it's coming. Still, there _is_ something. Seems to be
getting bigger pretty fast, too. Perhaps it would be as well to notify
the old man. What do you think?"

"Guess we'd better," said the Second. "S'pose you go down. Don't say
anything except to him. We don't want any more excitement among the
people than we can help."

The Fourth nodded and went down the steps, and the Second began walking
up and down the bridge, every now and then taking another squint ahead.
Again and again the mysterious shape crossed the disc of the sun, always
vertically as though, whatever it might be, it was steering a direct
course from the sun to the ship, its apparent rising and falling being
due really to the dipping of her bows into the swells.

"Well, Mr. Charteris, what's the trouble?" said the Skipper as he
reached the bridge. "Nothing wrong, I hope? Have you sighted a derelict,
or what? Ay, what in hell's that!"

His hands went up to his eyes and he stared for a few moments at the
pale yellow oblate shape of the sun.

At this moment the _St. Louis'_ head dipped again, and the Captain saw
something like a black line swiftly drawn across the sun from bottom to
top.

"That's what I wanted to call your attention to, sir," said the Second
in a low tone. "I first noticed it crossing the sun as it rose through
the mist. I thought it was a spot of dirt on my glasses, but it has
crossed the sun several times since then, and for some minutes seemed to
remain dead in the middle of it. Later on it got quite a lot larger, and
whatever it is it's approaching us pretty rapidly. You see it's quite
plain to the naked eye now."

By this time several of the crew and of the early loungers on deck had
also caught sight of the strange thing which seemed to be hanging and
swinging between the sky and the sea. People dived below for their
glasses, knocked at their friends' state-room doors and told them to get
up because something was flying towards the ship through the air; and in
a very few minutes there were hundreds of passengers on deck in all
varieties of early morning costume, and scores of glasses, held to
anxious eyes, were being directed ahead.

The glasses, however, soon became unnecessary, for the passengers had
scarcely got up on deck before the mysterious object to the eastward at
length took definite shape, and as it did so mouths were opened as well
as eyes, for the owners of the eyes and mouths beheld just then the
strangest sight that travellers by sea or land had ever seen.

Within the distance of about a mile it swung round at right angles to
the steamer's course with a rapidity which plainly showed that it was
entirely obedient to the control of a guiding intelligence, and hundreds
of eager eyes on board the liner saw, sweeping down from the grey-blue
of the early morning sky, a vessel whose hull seemed to be constructed
of some metal which shone with a pale, steely lustre.

It was pointed at both ends, the forward end being shaped something like
a spur or ram. At the after end were two flickering, interlacing circles
of a glittering greenish-yellow colour, apparently formed by two
intersecting propellers driven at an enormous velocity. Behind these was
a vertical fan of triangular shape. The craft appeared to be
flat-bottomed, and for about a third of her length amidships the upper
half of her hull was covered with a curving, domelike roof of glass.

"She's an air-ship of some sort, there's no doubt about that," said the
Captain, "so I guess the great problem has got solved at last. And yet
it ain't a balloon, because it's coming against the wind, and it's
nothing of the æroplane sort neither, because it hasn't planes or kites
or any fixings of that kind. Still it's made of something like metal and
glass, and it must take a lot of keeping up. It's travelling at a pretty
healthy speed too. Getting on for a hundred miles an hour, I should
guess. Ah! he's going to speak us! Hope he's honest."

Everybody on board the _St. Louis_ was up on deck by this time, and the
excitement rose to fever-heat as the strange vessel swept down towards
them from the middle sky, passed them like a flash of light, swung round
the stern, and ranged up alongside to starboard some twenty feet from
the bridge rail.

She was about a hundred and twenty feet long, with some twenty feet of
depth and thirty of beam, and the Captain and many of his officers and
passengers were very much relieved to find that, as far as could be
seen, she carried no weapons of offence.

As she ranged up alongside, a sliding door opened in the glass-domed
roof amidships, just opposite to the end of the _St. Louis'_ bridge. A
tall, fair-haired, clean-featured man, of about thirty, in grey
flannels, tipped up his golf cap with his thumb, and said:

"Good morning, Captain! You remember me, I suppose? Had a fine passage,
so far? I thought I should meet you somewhere about here."

The Captain of the _St. Louis_, in common with every one else on board,
had already had his credulity stretched about as far as it would go, and
he was beginning to wonder whether he was really awake; but when he
heard the hail and recognised the speaker he stared at him in blank and,
for the moment, speechless bewilderment. Then he got hold of his voice
again and said, keeping as steady as he could:

"Good morning, my Lord! Guess I never expected to meet even you like
this in the middle of the Atlantic! So the newspaper men were right for
once in a way, and you _have_ got an air-ship that will fly?"

"And a good deal more than that, Captain, if she wants to. I am just
taking a trial trip across the Atlantic before I start on a run round
the Solar System. Sounds like a lie, doesn't it? But it's coming off.
Oh, good morning, Miss Rennick! Captain, may I come on board?"

"By all means, my Lord, only I'm afraid I daren't stop Uncle Sam's
mails, even for you."

"There's no need for that, Captain, on a smooth sea like this," was the
reply. "Just keep on as you are going and I'll come alongside."

He put his head inside the door and called something up a speaking-tube
which led to a glass-walled chamber in the forward part of the roof,
where a motionless figure stood before a little steering wheel.

The craft immediately began to edge nearer and nearer to the liner's
rail, keeping speed so exactly with her that the threshold of the door
touched the end of the bridge without a perceptible jar. Then the
flannel-clad figure jumped on to the bridge and held out his hand to the
Captain.

As they shook hands he said in a low tone, "I want a word or two in
private with you, as soon as possible."

The commander saw a very serious meaning in his eyes. Besides, even if
he had not made his appearance under such extraordinary circumstances,
it was quite impossible that one of his social position and his wealth
and influence could have made such a request without good reason for it,
so he replied:

"Certainly, my Lord. Will you come down to my room?"

Hundreds of anxious, curious eyes looked upon the tall athletic figure
and the regular-featured, bronzed, honest English face as Rollo Lenox
Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, Baron Smeaton in the Peerage of
England, and Viscount Aubrey in the Peerage of Ireland, followed the
Captain to his room through the parting crowd of passengers. He nodded
to one or two familiar faces in the crowd, for he was an old Atlantic
ferryman, and had crossed five times with Captain Hawkins in the _St.
Louis_.

Then he caught sight of a well and fondly remembered face which he had
not seen for over two years. It was a face which possessed at once the
fair Anglo-Saxon skin, the firm and yet delicate Anglo-Saxon features,
and the wavy wealth of the old Saxon gold-brown hair; but a pair of big,
soft, pansy eyes, fringed with long, curling, black lashes, looked out
from under dark and perhaps just a trifle heavy eyebrows. Moreover,
there was that indescribable expression in the curve of her lips and the
pose of her head; to say nothing of a lissome, vivacious grace in her
whole carriage which proclaimed her a daughter of the younger branch of
the Race that Rules.

Their eyes met for an instant, and Lord Redgrave was startled and even a
trifle angered to see that she flushed up quickly, and that the
momentary smile with which she greeted him died away as she turned her
head aside. Still, he was a man accustomed to do what he wanted: and
what he wanted to do just then was to shake hands with Lilla Zaidie
Rennick, and so he went straight towards her, raised his cap, and held
out his hand saying, first with a glance into her eyes, and then with
one upward at the _Astronef_:

"Good morning again, Miss Rennick! You see it is done."

"Good morning, Lord Redgrave!" she replied, he thought, a little
awkwardly. "Yes, I see you have kept your promise. What a pity it is too
late! But I hope you will be able to stop long enough to tell us all
about it. This is Mrs. Van Stuyler, who has taken me under her
protection on my journey to Europe."

His lordship returned the bow of a tall, somewhat hard-featured matron
who looked dignified even in the somewhat nondescript costume which most
of the ladies were wearing. But her eyes were kindly, and he said:

"Very pleased to meet, Mrs. Van Stuyler. I heard you were coming, and I
was in hopes of catching you on the other side before you left. And now,
if you will excuse me, I must go and have a chat with the Skipper." He
raised his cap again and presently vanished from the curious eyes of the
excited crowd, through the door of the Captain's apartment.

Captain Hawkins closed the door of his sitting-room as he entered, and
said:

"Now, my Lord, I'm not going to ask you any questions to begin with,
because if I once began I should never stop; and besides, perhaps you'd
like to have your own say right away."

"Perhaps that will be the shortest way," said his lordship. "The fact
is, we've not only the remains of this Boer business on our hands, but
we've had what is practically a declaration of war from France and
Russia. Briefly it's this way. A few weeks ago, while the Allies thought
they were fighting the Boxers, it came to the knowledge of my brother,
the Foreign Secretary, that the Tsung-li-Yamen had concluded a secret
treaty with Russia which practically annulled all our rights over the
Yang-tse Valley, and gave Russia the right to bring her Northern Railway
right down through China.

"As you know, we've stood a lot too much in that part of the world
already, but we couldn't stand this; so about ten days ago an ultimatum
was sent declaring that the British Government would consider any
encroachment on the Yang-tse Valley as an unfriendly act.

"Meanwhile France chipped in with a notification that she was going to
occupy Morocco as a compensation for Fashoda, and added a few nasty
things about Egypt and other places. Of course we couldn't stand that
either, so there was another ultimatum, and the upshot of it all was
that I got a wire late last night from my brother telling me that war
would almost certainly be declared to-day, and asking me for the use of
this craft of mine as a sort of dispatch-boat if she was ready. She is
intended for something very much better than fighting purposes, so he
couldn't ask me to use her as a war-ship; besides, I am under a solemn
obligation to her inventor--her creator, in fact, for I've only built
her--to blow her to pieces rather than allow her to be used as a
fighting machine except, of course, in sheer personal self-defence.

"There is the telegram from my brother, so you can see there's no
mistake, and just after it came a messenger asking me, if the machine
was a success, to bring this with me across the Atlantic as fast as I
could come. It is the duplicate of an offensive and defensive alliance
between Great Britain and the United States, of which the details had
been arranged just as this complication arose. Another is coming across
by a fast cruiser, and, of course, the news will have got to Washington
by cable by this time.

"By the time you get to the entrance of the Channel you will probably
find it swarming with French cruisers and torpedo-destroyers, so if
you'll be advised by me, you'll leave Queenstown out and get as far
north as possible."

"Lord Redgrave," said the Captain, putting out his hand, "I'm
responsible for a good bit right here, and I don't know how to thank you
enough. I guess that treaty's been given away back to France by some of
our Irish statesmen by now, and it'd be mighty unhealthy for the _St.
Louis_ to fall in with a French or Russian cruiser----"

"That's all right, Captain," said Lord Redgrave, taking his hand. "I
should have warned any other British or American ship. At the same time,
I must confess that my motives in warning you were not entirely
unselfish. The fact is, there's some one on board the _St. Louis_ whom I
should decidedly object to see taken off to France as a prisoner of
war."

"And may I ask who that is?" said Captain Hawkins.

"Why not?" replied his lordship. "It's the young lady I spoke to on deck
just now, Miss Rennick. Her father was the inventor of that craft of
mine. No one would believe his theories. He was refused patents both in
England and America on the ground of lack of practical utility. I met
him about two years ago, that is to say rather more than a year before
his death, when I was stopping at Banff up in the Canadian Rockies. We
made a travellers' acquaintance, and he told me about this idea of his.
I was very much interested, but I'm afraid I must confess that I might
not have taken it up practically if the Professor hadn't happened to
possess an exceedingly beautiful daughter. However, of course I'm pretty
glad now that I did do it; though the experiments cost nearly five
thousand pounds and the craft herself close on a quarter of a million.
Still, she is worth every penny of it, and I was bringing her over to
offer to Miss Rennick as a wedding present, that is to say if she'd have
it--and me."

Captain Hawkins looked up and said rather seriously:

"Then, my Lord, I presume you don't know----"

"Don't know what?"

"That Miss Rennick is crossing in the care of Mrs. Van Stuyler, to be
married in London next month."

"The devil she is! And to whom, may I ask?" exclaimed his lordship,
pulling himself up very straight.

"To the Marquis of Byfleet, son of the Duke of Duncaster. I wonder you
didn't hear of it. The match was arranged last fall. From what people
say she's not very desperately in love with him, but--well, I fancy it's
like rather too many of these Anglo-American matches. A couple of
million dollars on one side, a title on the other, and mighty little
real love between them."

"But," said Redgrave between his teeth, "I didn't understand that Miss
Rennick ever had a fortune; in fact I'm quite certain that if her father
had been a rich man he'd have worked out his invention himself."

"Oh, the dollars aren't his. In fact they won't be hers till she
marries," replied the Captain. "They belong to her uncle, old Russell
Rennick. He got in on the ground floor of the New York and Chicago ice
trusts, and made millions. He's going to spend some of them on making
his niece a Marchioness. That's about all there is to it."

"Oh, indeed!" said Redgrave, still between his teeth. "Well, considering
that Byfleet is about as big a wastrel as ever disgraced the English
aristocracy, I don't think either Miss Rennick or her uncle will make a
very good bargain. However, of course that's no affair of mine now. I
remember that this Russell Rennick refused to finance his brother when
he really wanted the money. He made a particularly bad bargain, too,
then, though he didn't know it; for a dozen crafts like that, properly
armed, would simply smash up the navies of the world, and make sea-power
a private trust. After all, I'm not particularly sorry, because then it
wouldn't have belonged to me. Well now, Captain, I'm going to ask you to
give me a bit of breakfast when it's ready, and then I must be off. I
want to be in Washington to-night."

"To-night! What, twenty-one hundred miles!"

"Why not?" said Redgrave; "I can do about a hundred and fifty an hour
through the atmosphere, and then, you see, if that isn't fast enough I
can rise outside the earth's attraction, let it spin round, and then
come down where I want to."

"Great Scott!" remarked Captain Hawkins inadequately, but with emphasis.
"Well, my Lord, I guess we'll go down to breakfast."

But breakfast was not quite ready, and so Lord Redgrave rejoined Miss
Rennick and her chaperon on deck. All eyes and a good many glasses were
still turned on the _Astronef_, which had now moved a few feet away from
the liner's side, and was running along, exactly keeping pace with her.

"It's so wonderful, that even seeing doesn't seem believing," said the
girl, when they had renewed their acquaintance of two years before.

"Well," he replied, "it would be very easy to convince you. She shall
come alongside again, and if you and Mrs. Van Stuyler will honour her by
your presence for half an hour while breakfast is getting ready, I think
I shall be able to convince you that she is not the airy fabric of a
vision, but simply the realisation in metal and glass and other things
of visions which your father saw some years ago."

There was no resisting an invitation put in such a way. Besides, the
prospect of becoming the wonder and envy of every other woman on board
was altogether too dazzling for words.

Mrs. Van Stuyler looked a little aghast at the idea at first, but she
too had something of the same feeling as Zaidie, and besides, there
could hardly be any impropriety in accepting the invitation of one of
the wealthiest and most distinguished noblemen in the British Peerage.
So, after a little demur and a slight manifestation of nervousness, she
consented.

Redgrave signalled to the man at the steering wheel. The _Astronef_
slackened pace a little, dropped a yard or so, and slid up quite close
to the bridge-rail again. Lord Redgrave got in first and ran a light
gangway down on to the bridge. Zaidie and Mrs. Van Stuyler were
carefully handed up. The next moment the gangway was drawn up again, the
sliding glass doors clashed to, the _Astronef_ leapt a couple of
thousand feet into the air, swept round to the westward in a magnificent
curve, and vanished into the gloom of the upper mists.



CHAPTER I


The situation was one which was absolutely without parallel in all the
history of courtship from the days of Mother Eve to those of Miss Lilla
Zaidie Rennick. The nearest approach to it would have been the
old-fashioned Tartar custom which made it lawful for a man to steal his
best girl, if he could get her first, fling her across his horse's
crupper and ride away with her to his tent.

But to the shocked senses of Mrs. Van Stuyler the present adventure
appeared a great deal more terrible than that. Both Zaidie and herself
had sprung to their feet as soon as the upward rush of the _Astronef_
had slackened and they were released from their seats. They looked down
through the glass walls of what may be called the hurricane deck-chamber
of the _Astronef_, and saw below them a snowy sea of clouds just
crimsoned by the rising sun.

In this cloud-sea, which spread like a wide-meshed veil between them and
the earth, there were great irregular rifts which looked as big as
continents on a map. These had a blue-grey background, or it might be
more correct to say under-ground, and in the midst of one of these they
saw a little black speck which after a moment or two took the shape of a
little toy ship, and presently they recognised it as the
eleven-thousand-ton liner which a few moments ago had been their ocean
home.

Mrs. Van Stuyler was shaking in every muscle, afflicted by a sort of St.
Vitus' dance induced by physical fear and outraged propriety. Quite
apart from these, however, she experienced a third sensation which made
for a nameless inquietude. She was a woman of the world, well versed in
most of its ways, and she fully recognised that that single bound from
the bridge-rail of the _St. Louis_ to the other side of the clouds had
already carried her and her charge beyond the pale of human law.

The same thought, mingled with other feelings, half of wonder and half
of re-awakened tenderness, was just then uppermost in Miss Zaidie's
mind. It was quite obvious that the man who could create and control
such a marvellous vehicle as this could, morally as well as physically,
lift himself beyond the reach of the conventions which civilised society
had instituted for its own protection and government.

He could do with them exactly as he pleased. They were utterly at his
mercy. He might carry them away to some unexplored spot on one of the
continents, or to some unknown island in the midst of the wide Pacific.
He might even transport them into the midst of the awful solitudes which
surround the Poles. He could give them the choice between doing as he
wished, submitting unconditionally to his will, or committing suicide by
starvation.

They had not even the option of jumping out, for they did not know how
to open the sliding doors; and even if they had done, what feminine
nerves could have faced a leap into that awful gulf which lay below
them, a two-thousand-foot dive through the clouds into the waters of the
wintry Atlantic?

They looked at each other in speechless, dazed amazement. Far away below
them on the other side of the clouds the _St. Louis_ was steaming
eastward, and with her were going the last hopes of the coronet which
was to be the matrimonial equivalent of Miss Zaidie's beauty and Russell
Rennick's millions.

They were no longer of the world. Its laws could no longer protect them.
Anything might happen, and that anything depended absolutely on the will
of the lord and master of the extraordinary vessel which, for the
present, was their only world.

"My dearest Zaidie," Mrs. Van Stuyler gasped, when she at length
recovered the power of articulate speech, "what an entirely too awful
thing this is! Why, it's abduction and nothing less. Indeed it's worse,
for he's taken us clean off the earth, and there's no more chance of
rescue than if he took us to one of those planets he said he could go
to. If I didn't feel a great responsibility for you, dear, I believe I
should faint."

By this time Miss Zaidie had recovered a good deal of her usual
composure. The excitement of the upward rush, and what was left of the
momentary physical fear, had flushed her cheeks and lighted her eyes.
Even Mrs. Van Stuyler thought her looking, if possible, more beautiful
than she had done under the most favourable of terrestrial
circumstances. There was a something else too, which she didn't
altogether like to see, a sort of resignation to her fate which, in a
young lady situated as she was then, Mrs. Van Stuyler considered to be
distinctly improper.

"It is rather startling, isn't it?" she said, with hardly a trace of
emotion in her voice; "but I have no doubt that everything will be all
right in the end."

"Everything all right, my dear Zaidie! What on earth, or I might say
under heaven, do you mean?"

"I mean," replied Zaidie even more composedly than before, and also with
a little tightening of her lips, "that Lord Redgrave is the owner of
this vessel, and that therefore it is quite impossible that anything out
of the way could happen to us--I mean anything more out of the way than
this wonderful jump from the sea to the sky has been, unless, of course,
Lord Redgrave is going to take us for a voyage among the stars."

"Zaidie Rennick!" said Mrs. Van Stuyler, bridling up into her most
frigid dignity, "I am more than surprised to hear you talk in such a
strain. Perfectly safe, indeed! Has it not struck you that we are
absolutely at this man's--this Lord Redgrave's, mercy, that he can take
us where he likes, and treat us just as he pleases?"

"My dear Mrs. Van," replied Zaidie, dropping back into her familiar form
of address, but speaking even more frigidly than her chaperon had done,
"you seem to forget that, however extraordinary our situation may be
just now, we are in the care of an English gentleman. Lord Redgrave was
a friend of my father's, the only man who believed in his ideals, the
only man who realised them, the only man----"

"That you were ever in love with, eh?" said Mrs. Van Stuyler with a snap
in her voice. "Is that so? Ah, I begin to see something now."

"And I think, if you possess your soul in patience, you will see
something more before long," snapped Miss Zaidie in reply. Then she
stopped abruptly and the flush on her cheek deepened, for at that moment
Lord Redgrave came up the companion way from the lower deck carrying a
big silver tray with a coffee pot, three cups and saucers, a rack of
toast, and a couple of plates of bread and butter and cake.

Just then a sort of social miracle happened. The fact was that Mrs. Van
Stuyler had never before had her early coffee brought to her by a peer
of the British Realm. She thought it a little humiliating afterwards,
but for the moment all sorts of conventional barriers seemed to melt
away. After all she was a woman, and some years ago she had been a young
one. Lord Redgrave was an almost perfect specimen of English manhood in
its early prime. He was one of the richest peers in England, and he was
bringing her her coffee. As she said afterwards, she wilted, and she
couldn't help it.

"I'm afraid I have kept you waiting a long time for your coffee,
ladies," said Redgrave, as he balanced the tray on one hand and drew a
wicker table towards them with the other. "You see there are only two of
us on board this craft, and as my engineer is navigating the ship, I
have to attend to the domestic arrangements."

Mrs. Van Stuyler looked at him in the silence of mental paralysis. Miss
Zaidie frowned, smiled, and then began to laugh.

"Well, of all the cold-blooded English ways of putting things----" she
began.

"I beg your pardon?" said Lord Redgrave as he put the tray down on the
table.

"What Miss Rennick means, Lord Redgrave," interrupted Mrs. Van Stuyler,
struggling out of her paralytic condition, "and what I, too, should like
to say, is that under the circumstances----"

"You think that I am not as penitent as I ought to be. Is that so?" said
Redgrave, with a glance and a smile mostly directed towards Miss Zaidie.
"Well, to tell you the truth," he went on, "I am not a bit penitent. On
the contrary, I am very glad to have been able to assist the Fates as
far as I have done."

"Assist the Fates!" gasped Mrs. Van Stuyler, helping herself shakingly
to sugar, while Miss Zaidie folded a gossamer slice of bread and butter
and began to eat it; "I think, Lord Redgrave, that if you knew _all_ the
circumstances, you would say that you were working against them."

"My dear Mrs. Van Stuyler," he replied, as he filled his own coffee cup,
"I quite agree with you as to certain fates, but the Fates which I mean
are the ones which, with good or bad reason, I think are working on my
side. Besides, I _do_ know all the circumstances, or at least the most
important of them. That knowledge is, in fact, my principal excuse for
bringing you so unceremoniously above the clouds."

As he said this he took a sideway glance at Miss Zaidie. She dropped her
eyelids and went on eating her bread and butter; but there was a little
deepening of the flush on her cheeks which was to him as the first flush
of sunrise to a benighted wanderer.

There was a rather awkward silence after this. Miss Zaidie stirred the
coffee in her cup with a dainty Queen Anne spoon, and seemed to
concentrate the whole of her attention upon the operation. Then Mrs. Van
Stuyler took a sip out of her cup and said:

"But really, Lord Redgrave, I feel that I must ask you whether you think
that what you have done during the last few minutes (which already, I
assure you, seem hours to me) is--well, quite in accordance with
the--what shall I say--ah, the rules that we have been accustomed to
live under?"

Lord Redgrave looked at Miss Zaidie again. She didn't even raise her
eyelids, only a very slight tremor of her hand as she raised her cup to
her lips told that she was even listening. He took courage from this
sign, and replied:

"My dear Mrs. Van Stuyler, the only answer that I can make to that just
now is to remind you that, by the sanction of ages, everything is
supposed to be fair under two sets of circumstances, and, whatever is
happening on the earth down yonder, we, I think, are not at war."

The next moment Miss Zaidie's eyelids lifted a little. There was a
tremor about her lips almost too faint to be perceptible, and the
slightest possible tinge of colour crept upwards towards her eyes. She
put her cup down and got up, walked towards the glass walls of the
deck-chamber, and looked out over the cloud-scape.

The shortness of her steamer skirt made it possible for Lord Redgrave
and Mrs. Van Stuyler to see that the sole of her right boot was swinging
up and down on the heel ever so slightly. They came simultaneously to
the conclusion that if she had been alone she would have stamped, and
stamped pretty hard. Possibly also she would have said things to herself
and the surrounding silence. This seemed probable from the almost
equally imperceptible motion of her shapely shoulders.

Mrs. Van Stuyler recognised in a moment that her charge was getting
angry. She knew by experience that Miss Zaidie possessed a very proper
spirit of her own, and that it was just as well not to push matters too
far. She further recognised that the circumstances were extraordinary,
not to say equivocal, and that she herself occupied a distinctly
peculiar position.

She had accepted the charge of Miss Zaidie from her Uncle Russell for a
consideration counted partly by social advantages and partly by dollars.
In the most perfect innocence she had permitted not only her charge but
herself to be abducted--for, after all, that was what it came to--from
the deck of an American liner, and carried, not only beyond the clouds,
but also beyond the reach of human law, both criminal and conventional.

Inwardly she was simply fuming with rage. As she said afterwards, she
felt just like a bottled volcano which would like to go off and daren't.

About two minutes of somewhat surcharged silence passed. Mrs. Van
Stuyler sipped her coffee in ostentatiously small sips. Lord Redgrave
took his in slower and longer ones, and helped himself to bread and
butter. Miss Zaidie appeared perfectly contented with her contemplation
of the clouds.



CHAPTER II


At length Mrs. Van Stuyler, being a woman of large experience and some
social deftness, recognised that a change of subject was the easiest way
of retreat out of a rather difficult situation. So she put her cup down,
leant back in her chair, and, looking straight into Lord Redgrave's
eyes, she said with purely feminine irrelevance:

"I suppose you know, Lord Redgrave, that, when we left, the machine
which we call in America Manhood Suffrage--which, of course, simply
means the selection of a government by counting noses which may or may
not have brains above them--was what some of our orators would call in
full blast. If you are going to New York after Washington, as you said
on the boat, we might find it a rather inconvenient time to arrive. The
whole place will be chaos, you know; because when the citizen of the
United States begins electioneering, New York is not a very nice place
to stop in except for people who want excitement, and so if you will
excuse me putting the question so directly, I should like to know what
you just do mean to do----"

Lord Redgrave saw that she was going to add "with us," but before he had
time to say anything, Miss Zaidie turned round, walked deliberately
towards her chair, sat down, poured herself out a fresh cup of coffee,
added the milk and sugar with deliberation, and then after a preliminary
sip said, with her cup poised half-way between her dainty lips and the
table:

"Mrs. Van, I've got an idea. I suppose it's inherited, for dear old Pop
had plenty. Anyhow we may as well get back to common-sense subjects. Now
look here," she went on, switching an absolutely convincing glance
straight into her host's eyes, "my father may have been a dreamer, but
still he was a Sound Money man. He believed in honest dealings. He
didn't believe in borrowing a hundred dollars gold and paying back in
fifty dollars silver. What's your opinion, Lord Redgrave; you don't do
that sort of thing in England, do you? Uncle Russell is a Sound Money
man too. He's got too much gold locked up to want silver for it."

"My dear Zaidie," said Mrs. Van Stuyler, "what _have_ democratic and
republican politics and bimetalism got to do with----"

"With a trip in this wonderful vessel which Pop told me years ago could
go up to the stars if it ever was made? Why just this, Lord Redgrave is
an Englishman and too rich to believe in anything but sound money, so is
Uncle Russell, and there you have it, or should have."

"I think I see what you mean, Miss Rennick," said their host, leaning
back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head, as steamboat
travellers are wont to do when seas are smooth and skies are blue. "The
_Astronef_ might come down like a vision from the clouds and preach the
Gospel of Gold in electric rays of silver through the commonplace medium
of the Morse Code. How's that for poetry and practice?"

"I quite agree with his lordship as regards the practice," said Mrs. Van
Stuyler, talking somewhat rudely across him to Zaidie. "It would be an
excellent use to put this wonderful invention to. And then, I am sure
his lordship would land us in Central Park, so that we could go to your
Uncle's house right away."

"No, no, I'm afraid I must ask you to excuse me there, Mrs. Van
Stuyler," said Redgrave, with a change of tone which Miss Zaidie
appreciated with a swiftly veiled glance. "You see, I have placed myself
beyond the law. I have, as you have been good enough to intimate,
abducted--to put it brutally--two ladies from the deck of an Atlantic
liner. Further, in doing so I have selfishly spoiled the prospects of
one of the ladies. But, seriously, I really must go to Washington
first----"

"I think, Lord Redgrave," interrupted Mrs. Van Stuyler, ignoring the
last unfinished sentence and assuming her best Knickerbocker dignity,
"if you will forgive me saying so, that that is scarcely a subject for
discussion here."

"And if that's so," interrupted Miss Zaidie, "the less we say about it
the better. What I wanted to say was this. We all want the Republicans
in, at least all of us that have much to lose. Now, if Lord Redgrave was
to use this wonderful air-ship of his on the right side--why there
wouldn't be any standing against it."

"I must say that until just now I had hardly contemplated turning the
_Astronef_ into an electioneering machine. Still, I admit that she might
be made use of in a good cause, only I hope----"

"That we shan't want you to paste her over with election bills, eh?--or
start handbill-snowstorms from the deck--or kidnap Croker and Bryan just
as you did us, for instance?"

"If I could, I'm quite sure that I shouldn't have as pleasant guests as
I have now on board the _Astronef_. What do you think, Mrs. Van
Stuyler?"

"My dear Lord Redgrave," she replied, "that would be quite impossible.
The idea of being shut up in a ship like this which can soar not only
from earth, but beyond the clouds, with people who would find out your
best secrets and then perhaps shoot you so as to be the only possessors
of them--well, that would be foolishness indeed."

"Why, certainly it would," said Zaidie; "the only use you could have for
people like that would be to take them up above the clouds and drop them
out. But suppose we--I mean Lord Redgrave--took the _Astronef_ down over
New York and signalled messages from the sky at night with a
searchlight----"

"Good," said their host, getting up from his deck-chair and stretching
himself up straight, looking the while at Miss Zaidie's averted profile.
"That's gorgeously good! We might even turn the election. I'm for sound
money all the time, if I may be permitted to speak American."

"English is quite good enough for us, Lord Redgrave," said Miss Zaidie a
little stiffly. "We may have improved on the old language a bit, still
we understand it, and--well, we can forgive its shortcomings. But that
isn't quite to the point."

"It seems to me," said Mrs. Van Stuyler, "that we are getting nearly as
far from the original subject as we are from the _St. Louis_. May I ask,
Zaidie, what you really propose to do?"

"_Do_ is not for us to say," said Miss Zaidie, looking straight up to
the glass roof of the deck-chamber. "You see, Mrs. Van, we're not free
agents. We are not even first-class passengers who have paid their fares
on a contract ticket which is supposed to get them there."

"If you'll pardon me saying so," said Lord Redgrave, stopping his walk
up and down the deck, "that is not quite the case. To put it in the most
brutally material form, it is quite true that I have kidnapped you two
ladies and taken you beyond the reach of earthly law. But there is
another law, one which would bind a gentleman even if he were beyond the
limits of the Solar System, and so if you wish to be landed either in
Washington or New York it shall be done. You shall be put down within a
carriage drive of your own residence, or of Mr. Russell Rennick's. I
will myself see you to his door, and there we may say goodbye, and I
will take my trip through the Solar System alone."

There was another pause after this, a pause pregnant with the fate of
two lives. They looked at each other--Mrs. Van Stuyler at Zaidie, Zaidie
at Lord Redgrave, and he at Mrs. Van Stuyler again. It was a kind of
three-cornered duel of eyes, and the eyes said a good deal more than
common human speech could have done.

Then Lord Redgrave, in answer to the last glance from Zaidie's eyes,
said slowly and deliberately:

"I don't want to take any undue advantage, but I think I am justified in
making one condition. Of course I can take you beyond the limits of the
world that we know, and to other worlds that we know little or nothing
of. At least I could do so if I were not bound by law as strong as
gravitation itself; but now, as I said before, I just ask whether or not
my guests or, if you think it suits the circumstances better, my
prisoners, shall be released unconditionally wherever they choose to be
landed."

He paused for a moment and then, looking straight into Zaidie's eyes, he
added:

"The one condition I make is that the vote shall be unanimous."

"Under the circumstances, Lord Redgrave," said Mrs. Van Stuyler, rising
from her seat and walking towards him with all the dignity that would
have been hers in her own drawing-room, "there can only be one answer to
that. Your guests or your prisoners, as you choose to call them, must be
released unconditionally."

Lord Redgrave heard these words as a man might hear words in a dream.
Zaidie had risen too. They were looking into each other's eyes, and many
unspoken words were passing between them. There was a little silence,
and then, to Mrs. Van Stuyler's unutterable horror, Zaidie said, with
just the suspicion of a gasp in her voice:

"There's one dissentient. We are prisoners, and I guess I'd better
surrender at discretion."

The next moment her captor's arm was round her waist, and Mrs. Van
Stuyler, with her twitching fingers linked behind her back, and her nose
at an angle of sixty degrees, was staring away through the blue
immensity, dumbly wondering what on earth or under heaven was going to
happen next.



CHAPTER III


After a couple of minutes of silence which could be felt, Mrs. Van
Stuyler turned round and said angrily:

"Zaidie, you will excuse me, perhaps, if I say that your conduct is
not--I mean has not been what I should have expected--what I did,
indeed, expect from your uncle's niece when I undertook to take you to
Europe. I must say----"

"If I were you, Mrs. Van, I don't think I'd say much more about that,
because, you see, it's fixed and done. Of course, Lord Redgrave's only
an earl, and the other is a marquis, but, you see, he's a man, and I
don't quite think the other one is--and that's about all there is to
it."

Their host had just left the deck-saloon, taking the early coffee
apparatus with him, and Miss Zaidie, in the first flush of her pride and
re-found happiness, was taking a promenade of about twelve strides each
way, while Mrs. Van Stuyler, after partially relieving her feelings as
above, had seated herself stiffly in her wicker-chair, and was following
her with eyes which were critical and, if they had been twenty years
younger, might also have been envious.

"Well, at least I suppose I must congratulate you on your ability to
accommodate yourself to most extraordinary circumstances. I must say
that as far as that goes I quite envy you. I feel as though I ought to
choke or take poison, or something of that sort."

"Sakes, Mrs. Van, please don't talk like that!" said Zaidie, stopping in
her walk just in front of her chaperon's chair. "Can't you see that
there's nothing extraordinary about the circumstances except this
wonderful ship? I have told you how Pop and I met Lord Redgrave in our
tour through the Canadian Rockies two or three years ago. No, it's two
years and nine months next June; and how he took an interest in Pop's
theories and ideas about this same ship that we are on now----"

"Oh yes," said Mrs. Van Stuyler rather acidly, "and not only in the
abstract ideas, but apparently in a certain concrete reality."

"Mrs. Van," laughed Zaidie, with a cunning twist on her heel, "I know
you don't mean to be rude, but--well, now did any one ever call _you_ a
concrete reality? Of course it's correct just as a scientific
definition, perhaps--still, anyhow, I guess it's not much good going on
about that. The facts are just this way. I consented to marry that
Byfleet marquis just out of sheer spite and blank ignorance. Lord
Redgrave never actually asked me to marry him when we were in the
Rockies, but he did say when he went back to England that as soon as he
had realised my father's ideal he would come over and try and realise
one of his own. He was looking at me when he said it, and he looked a
good deal more than he said. Then he went away, and poor Pop died. Of
course I couldn't write and tell him, and I suppose he was too proud to
write before he'd done what he undertook to do, and I, like most
girl-fools in the same place would have done, thought that he'd given
the whole thing up and just looked upon the trip as a sort of interlude
in globe-trotting, and thought no more about Pop's ideas and inventions
than he did about his daughter."

"Very natural, of course," said Mrs. Van Stuyler, somewhat mollified by
the subdued passion which Zaidie had managed to put into her commonplace
words; "and so as you thought he had forgotten you and was finding a
wife in his own country, and a possible husband came over from that same
country with a coronet----"

"That'll do, Mrs. Van, thank you," interrupted Miss Zaidie, bringing her
daintily-shod foot down on the deck this time with an unmistakable
stamp. "We'll consider that incident closed if you please. It was a
miserable, mean, sordid business altogether; I am utterly, hopelessly
ashamed of it and myself too. Just to think that I could ever----"

Mrs. Van Stuyler cut short her indignant flow of words by a sudden
uplifting of her eyelids and a swift turn of her head towards the
companion way. Zaidie stamped again, this time more softly, and walked
away to have another look at the clouds.

"Why, what on earth is the matter?" she exclaimed, shrinking back from
the glass wall. "There's nothing--we're not anywhere!"

"Pardon me, Miss Rennick, you are on board the _Astronef_," said Lord
Redgrave, as he reached the top of the companion way, "and the
_Astronef_ is at present travelling at about a hundred and fifty miles
an hour above the clouds towards Washington. That is why you don't see
the clouds and sea as you did after we left the _St. Louis_. At a speed
like this they simply make a sort of grey-green blur. We shall be in
Washington this evening, I hope."

"To-night, sir--I beg your pardon, my Lord!" gasped Mrs. Van Stuyler. "A
hundred and fifty miles an hour! Surely that's impossible."

"My dear Mrs. Van Stuyler," said Redgrave, with a side-look at Zaidie,
"nowadays 'impossible' is hardly an English or even an American word. In
fact, since I have had the honour of realising some of Professor
Rennick's ideas it has been relegated to the domain of mathematics. Not
even he could make two and two more or less than four, but--well, would
you like to come into the conning-tower and see for yourselves? I can
show you a few experiments that will, at any rate, help to pass the time
between here and Washington."

"Lord Redgrave," said Mrs. Van Stuyler, dropping gracefully back into
her wicker armchair, "if I may say so, I have seen quite enough
impossibilities, and--er, well--other things since we left the deck of
the _St. Louis_ to keep me quite satisfied until, with your lordship's
permission, I set foot on solid ground again, and I should also like to
remind you that we have left everything behind us on the _St. Louis_,
everything except what we stand up in, and--and----"

"And therefore it will be a point of honour with me to see that you want
for nothing while you are on board the _Astronef_, and that you shall be
released from your durance----"

"Now don't say vile, Lenox--I mean----"

"It is perfectly plain what you mean, Zaidie," said Mrs. Van Stuyler, in
a tone which seemed to send a chill through the deck-chamber. "Really,
the American girl----"

"Just wants to tell the truth," laughed Zaidie, going towards Redgrave.
"Lord Redgrave, if you like it better, says he wants to marry me, and,
peer or peasant, I want to marry him, and that's all there is to it. You
don't suppose I'd have----"

"My dear girl, there's no need to go into details," interrupted Mrs. Van
Stuyler, inspired by fond memories of her own youth; "we will take that
for granted, and as we are beyond the social region in which chaperons
are supposed to be necessary, I think I will have a nap."

"And we'll go to the conning-tower, eh?"

"Breakfast will be ready in about half an hour," said Redgrave, as he
took Zaidie by the arm and led her towards the forward end of the
deck-chamber. "Meanwhile, _au revoir_! If you want anything, touch the
button at your right hand, just as you would on board the _St. Louis_."

"I thank your lordship," said Mrs. Van Stuyler, half melting and half
icy still. "I shall be quite content to wait until you come back. Really
I feel quite sleepy."

"That's the effect of the elevation on the dear old lady's nerves,"
Redgrave whispered to Zaidie as he helped her up the narrow stairway
which led to the glass-domed conning-tower, in which in days to come she
was destined to pass some of the most delightful and the most terrible
moments of her life.

"Then why doesn't it affect me that way?" said Zaidie, as she took her
place in the little chamber, steel-walled and glass-roofed, and half
filled with instruments of which she, Vassar girl and all as she was,
could only guess the use.

"Well, to begin with, you are younger, which is an absolutely
unnecessary observation; and in the second place, perhaps you were
thinking about something else."

"By which I suppose you mean your lordship's noble self."

This was said in such a tone and with such an indescribable smile that
there immediately ensued a gap in the conversation, and a silence which
was a great deal more eloquent than any words could have made it.

When Miss Zaidie had got free again she put her hands up to her hair,
and while she was patting it into something like shape again she said:

"But I thought you brought me here to show me some experiments, and not
to----"

"Not to take advantage of the first real opportunity of tasting some of
the dearest delights that mortal man ever stole from earth or sea? Do
you remember that day when we were coming down from the big
glacier--when your foot slipped and I just caught you and saved a
sprained ankle?"

"Yes, you wretch, and went away next day and left something like a
broken heart behind you! Why didn't you--Oh what idiots you men can be
when you put your minds to it!"

"It wasn't quite that, Zaidie. You see, I'd promised your father the day
before--of course I was only a younger son then--that I wouldn't say
anything about realising _my_ ideal until I had realised his, and
so----"

"And so I might have gone to Europe with Uncle Russell's millions to buy
that man Byfleet's coronet, and pay the price----"

"Don't, Zaidie, don't! That is quite too horrible to think of, and as
for the coronet, well, I think I can give you one about as good as his,
and one that doesn't want re-gilding. Good Lord, fancy you married to a
thing like that! What could have made you think of it?"

"I didn't think," she said angrily; "I didn't think and I didn't feel.
Of course I thought that I'd dropped right out of your life, and after
that I didn't care. I was mad right through, and I'd made up my mind to
do what others did--take a title and a big position, and have the
outside as bright as I could get it, whatever the inside might be like.
I'd made up my mind to be a society queen abroad, and a miserable woman
at home--and, Lenox, thank God and you, that I wasn't!"

Then there was another interlude, and at the end of it Redgrave said:

"Wait till we've finished our honeymoon in space, and come back to
earth. You won't want any coronets then, although you'll have one, for
all the lands of earth won't hold another woman like yourself--your own
sweet self! Of course it doesn't now, but--there, you know what I mean.
You'll have been to other worlds, you'll have made the round trip of the
Solar System, so to say, and----"

"And I think, dear, that is about promise of wonders enough, and of
other things too--no, you are really quite too exacting. I thought you
brought me here to show me some of the wonders that this marvellous ship
of yours can work."

"Then just one more and I'll show you. Now you stand up there on that
step so that you can see all round, and watch with all your eyes,
because you are going to see something that no woman ever saw before."



CHAPTER IV


Above a tiny little writing-desk fixed to the wall of the conning-tower
there was a square mahogany board with six white buttons in pairs. On
one side of the board hung a telephone and on the other a speaking-tube.
To the right hand opposite where Zaidie stood were two nickel-plated
wheels and behind each of them a white disc, one marked off into 360
degrees, and the other into 100 with subdivisions of tens. Overhead hung
an ordinary tell-tale compass, and compactly placed on other parts of
the wall were barometers, thermometers, barographs, and, in fact,
practically every instrument that the most exacting of aeronauts or
Space-explorers could have asked for.

"You see, Zaidie, this is what one might call the cerebral chamber of
the _Astronef_, and, granted that my engines worked all right, I could
make her do anything I wanted without moving out of here, but as a rule,
of course, Murgatroyd is in the engine-room. If he wasn't the most
whole-souled Wesleyan that Yorkshire ever produced, I believe he'd
become an idolater and worship the _Astronef's_ engines."

"And who is Murgatroyd, please?"

"In the first place he is what I might call an hereditary retainer of
the House of Redgrave. His ancestors have served mine for the last seven
hundred years. When my ancestors were burglar-barons, his were
men-at-arms. When we went on the Crusades they went too; when we raised
a regiment for the King against the Parliament they were naturally the
first to enlist in it; and as we gradually settled down into peaceful
respectability they did the same. Lastly, when we went into trade as
ironmasters and engineers they went in too. This Murgatroyd, for
instance, was master-foreman of my works at Smeaton, and he was the only
man I dared trust with the secrets of the _Astronef_, and the only one I
would trust myself on board her with, and that's why we're a crew of
two. You see the command of a vessel like this is a fairly big business,
and if it got into the wrong sort of hands----"

"Yes, I see," said Zaidie with a little nod. "It would be just too awful
to think about. Why you might keep the world in terror with it; but I
know you wouldn't do that, because, for one thing, I wouldn't let you."

"Gently, gently, Ma'm'selle; permit me most humbly to remind you that
you are still my prisoner, and that I am still Commander of the
_Astronef_."

"Oh, very well then," said Zaidie, interrupting him with a pretty little
gesture of impatience, "and now suppose you let me see what the
_Astronef's_ commander can do with her."

"Certainly," replied Redgrave, "and with the greatest pleasure--but, by
the way, that reminds me you haven't paid your footing yet."

When due payment had been given and taken, or perhaps it would be more
correct to say taken and given, Redgrave put his finger on one of the
buttons.

Immediately Zaidie heard the swish of the air past the smooth wall of
the conning-tower grow fainter and fainter. Then there came a little
check which nearly upset her balance, and presently the clouds beneath
them began to take shape and great white continents of them with grey
oceans in between went sweeping silently and swiftly away behind them.

Redgrave turned the wheel in front of the 100-degree disc a little to
the left. The next instant the clouds rose up. For a moment Zaidie could
see nothing but white mist on all sides. Then the atmosphere cleared
again, and she saw far below her what looked like a vast expanse of
ocean that had been suddenly frozen solid.

There were the long Atlantic rollers tipped with snowy foam. Here and
there at wide intervals were little black dots, some of them with brown
trails behind them, others with little patches of white which showed up
distinctly against the dark grey-blue of the sea. Every moment they grew
bigger. Then the white-crested waves began to move, and the big ocean
steamers and full-rigged sailing ships looked less and less like toys.
Just under them there was a very big one with four funnels pouring out
dense volumes of black smoke. Redgrave took up a pair of glasses, looked
at her for a moment and said:

"That's the _Deutschland_, the new Hamburg-American record-breaker.
Suppose we go down and have a lark with her. I wonder if she's taking
news of the war. We're in with Germany, and they may know something
about it."

"That would be just too lovely!" said Zaidie. "Let's go and show them
how _we_ can break records. I suppose they've seen us by this time and
are just wondering with all their wits what we are. I guess they'll feel
pretty tired about poor Count Zeppelin's balloon when they see _us_."

Redgrave noted the "we" and the "us" with much secret satisfaction.

"All right," he said, "we'll go and give them a bit of a startler."

In front of the conning-tower there was a steel flagstaff about ten feet
high, with halliards rove through a sheer in the top. He took a little
roll of bunting out of a locker under the desk, opened a glass slide,
brought in the halliards and bent the flag on.

Meanwhile the long shape of the great liner was getting bigger and
bigger. Her decks were black, with people staring up at this strange
apparition which was dropping upon them from the clouds. Another minute
and the _Astronef_ had dropped to within five hundred feet of the water,
and about half a mile astern of the _Deutschland_. Redgrave turned the
wheel back two or three inches and touched a second button.

The _Astronef_ stopped her descent instantly, and then she shot forward.
The new greyhound was making her twenty-two and a half knots, hurling a
broad white torrent of foam away from under her counters. But in half a
minute the _Astronef_ was alongside her.

Redgrave ran the roll of bunting up to the top of the flagstaff, pulled
one of the halliards, and the White Ensign of England floated out.
Almost at the same moment the German flag went up to the staff at the
stern of the _Deutschland_, and they heard a roar of cheers, mingled
with cries of wonder, come up from her swarming decks.

Each flag was dipped thrice in due course. Redgrave took off his cap and
bowed to the Captain on the bridge. Zaidie nodded and fluttered her
handkerchief in reply to hundreds of others that were waving on the
decks. Mrs. Van Stuyler woke up in wonder and waved hers instinctively,
half longing to change crafts. In fact, if it hadn't been for her
absolute devotion to the proprieties she would have obeyed her first
impulse and asked Lord Redgrave to put her on board the steamer.

While the officers and crew and passengers of the _Deutschland_ were
staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the graceful glittering shape of
the _Astronef_, Redgrave touched the first button in the second row
once, moved the 100-degree wheel on a few degrees, and then gave the
other a quarter turn. Then he closed the window slide, and the next
moment Zaidie saw the great liner sink down beneath them in a curious
twisting sort of way. She seemed to stop still and then spin round on
her centre, getting smaller and smaller every moment.

"What's the matter, Lenox?" she said, with a little gasp. "What's the
_Deutschland_ doing? She seems to be spinning round on her own axis like
a top."

"That's only the point of view, dear. She's just plugging along straight
on her way to New York, and we've been making rings round her and going
up all the time. But of course you don't notice the motion here any more
than you would if you were in a balloon."

"But I thought you were going to speak them. Surely you don't mean to
say that you intended that just as a little bit of showing off?"

"That's about what it comes to, I suppose, but you must not think it was
altogether vanity. You see the German Government has bought Count
Zeppelin's air-ship or steerable balloon, as it ought to be called,
always supposing that they can steer it in a wind, and of course their
idea is to make a fighting machine of it. Now Germany is engaged to
stand by us in this trouble that's coming, and by way of cementing the
alliance I thought it was just as well to let the wily Teuton know that
there's something flying the British flag which could make very small
mincemeat of their gas-bags."

"And what about Old Glory?" said Miss Zaidie. "The _Astronef_ was built
with English money and English skill, but----"

"She is the creature of American genius. Of course she is. In fact she
is the first concrete symbol of the Anglo-American Alliance, and when
the daughter of her creator has gone into partnership with the man who
made her we'll have two flagstaff's, and the Jack and Old Glory will
float side by side."

"And meanwhile where are we going?" asked Zaidie, after a moment's
interval. "Ah, there we are through the clouds again. What makes us
rise? Is that the force that Pop told me he discovered?"

"I'll answer the last question first," said Redgrave. "That was the
greatest of your father's discoveries. He got at the secret of
gravitation, and was able to analyse it into two separate forces just as
Volta did with electricity--positive and negative, or, to put it better,
attractive and repulsive.

"Three out of the five sets of engines in the _Astronef_ develop the R.
Force, as I call it for short. This wheel with the hundred degrees
marked behind it regulates the development. The further I turn it this
way to the right, the more the R. Force overcomes the attractive force
of the earth or any other planet that we may visit. Turn it back, and
gravitation asserts itself. If I put this arrow-head on the wheel
opposite zero the weight of the _Astronef_ is about a hundred and fifty
tons, and of course she would go down like a stone, and a very big one
at that. At ten she weighs nothing; that is to say the R. Force exactly
counteracts gravitation. At eleven she begins to rise. At a hundred she
would be hurled away from the earth like a shell from a twelve-inch gun,
or even faster. Now, watch."

He took up the speaking-tube. "Is she all tight everywhere, Andrew?"

"Yes, my Lord," came gurgling through the tube.

Then Redgrave slowly turned the wheel till the indicator pointed to
twenty-five. Zaidie, all eyes and wonder, saw a vast sea of glittering
white spread out beneath them, an ocean of snow with grey-blue patches
here and there. It sank away from under them till the patches became
spots and the sunlit clouds a vast, luminous blur. The air about them
grew marvellously clear and limpid. The sun blazed down on them with a
tenfold intensity of light, but Zaidie was astonished to find that very
little heat penetrated the glass walls and roof of the conning-tower.

"What an awful height!" she exclaimed, looking round at him with
something like fear in her eyes. "How high are we, Lenox?"

"You'll find afterwards that the _Astronef_ doesn't take any account of
high or low or up or down," he replied, looking at the dial of an
aneroid barometer by the side of him. "Roughly speaking, we're rather
over 60,000 feet--say ten miles--from the surface of the Atlantic.
That's why I asked Andrew whether everything was tight. You see we
couldn't breathe the air there is outside there--too thin and cold--and
so the _Astronef_ makes her own atmosphere as we go along. But I won't
spoil what you're going to see by any more of this. So if you please,
we'll go down now and get along to Washington. Anyhow, I hope I've
convinced you so far that I've kept my promise."

"Yes, dear, you have, and splendidly! I've only one regret. If _he_ was
only here now, what a happy man he'd be! Still, I daresay he knows all
about it and is just as happy. In fact he must be. I feel certain he
must. The very soul of his intellect was in the dream of this ship, and
now that it's a reality he must be here still. Isn't it part of himself?
Isn't it his mind that's working in these wonderful engines of yours,
and isn't it his strength that lifts us up from the earth and takes us
down again just as you please to turn that wheel?"

"There's little doubt about that, Zaidie," said Redgrave quietly, but
earnestly. "You know we North-country folk all have our traditions and
our ghosts; and what more likely than that the spirit of a dead man or a
man gone to other worlds should watch over the realisation of his
greatest work on earth? Why shouldn't we believe that, we who are going
away from this world to other ones?"

"Why not?" interrupted Zaidie, "why, of course we will. And now suppose
we come down in more ways than one and go and give poor Mrs. Van Stuyler
something to eat and drink. The dear old girl must be frightened half
out of her wits by this time."

"Very well," replied Redgrave; "but we'll come down literally first, so
that we can get the propellers to work."

He turned the wheel back till the indicator pointed to five. The
cloud-sea came up with a rush. They passed through it, and stopped about
a thousand feet above the sea. Redgrave touched the first button twice,
and then the next one twice. The air began to hiss past the walls of the
conning-tower. The crest-crowned waves of the Atlantic seemed to sweep
in a hurrying torrent behind them, and then Redgrave, having made sure
that Murgatroyd was at the after-wheel, gave him the course for
Washington, and then went down to induct his bride-elect into the art
and mystery of cooking by electricity as it was done in the kitchen of
the _Astronef_.



CHAPTER V


As this narrative is the story of the personal adventures of Lord
Redgrave and his bride, and not an account of events at which all the
world has already wondered, there is no necessity to describe in any
detail the extraordinary sequence of circumstances which began when the
_Astronef_ dropped without warning from the clouds in front of the White
House at Washington, and his lordship, after paying his respects to the
President, proceeded to the British Embassy and placed the copy of the
Anglo-American agreement in Lord Pauncefote's hands.

Mrs. Van Stuyler's spirits had risen as the _Astronef_ descended towards
the lights of Washington, and when the President and Lord Pauncefote
paid a visit to the wonderful craft, the joint product of American
genius and English capital and constructive skill, she immediately
assumed, at Redgrave's request, the position of lady of the house _pro
tem._, and described the "change of plans," as she called it, which led
to their transfer from the _St. Louis_ to the _Astronef_ with an
imaginative fluency which would have done credit to the most
enterprising of American interviewers.

"You see, my dear," she said to Zaidie afterwards, "as everything turned
out so very happily, and as Lord Redgrave behaved in such a splendid
way, I thought it was my duty to make everything appear as pleasant to
the President and Lord Pauncefote as I could."

"It was real good of you, Mrs. Van," said Zaidie. "If I hadn't been
paralysed with admiration I believe I should have laughed. Now if you'll
just come with us on our trip, and write a book about it afterwards just
as you told--I mean as you described what happened between the _St.
Louis_ and Washington, to the President and Lord Pauncefote, you'd make
a million dollars out of it. Say now, won't you come?"

"My dear Zaidie," Mrs. Van Stuyler replied, "you know that I am very
fond of you. If I'd only had a daughter I should have wanted her to be
just like you, and I should have wanted her to marry a man just like
Lord Redgrave. But there's a limit to everything. You say that you are
going to the moon and the stars, and to see what the other planets are
like. Well, that's your affair. I hope God will forgive you for your
presumption, and let you come back safe, but I----No. Ten--twenty
millions wouldn't pay me to tempt Providence like that."

The _Astronef_ had landed in front of the White House, as everybody
knows, on the eve of the Presidential election. After dinner in the
deck-saloon, as the Space Navigator lay in the midst of a square of
troops, outside which a huge crowd surged and struggled to get a look at
the latest miracle of constructive science, the President and the
British Ambassador said goodbye, and as soon as the gangway ladder was
drawn in the _Astronef_, moved by no visible agency, rose from the
ground amidst a roar of cheers coming from a hundred thousand throats.
She stopped at a height of about a thousand feet, and then her forward
searchlight flashed out, swept the horizon, and vanished. Then it
flashed out again intermittently in the longs and shorts of the Morse
Code, and these, when translated, read:

"Vote for sound men and sound money!"

In five minutes the wires of the United States were alive with the
terse, pregnant message, and under the ocean in the dark depths of the
Atlantic ooze, vivid narratives of the coming of the miracle went
flashing to a hundred newspaper offices in England and on the Continent.
The New York correspondent of the London _Daily Express_ added the
following paragraph to his account of the strange occurrence:

"The secret of this amazing vessel, which has proved itself capable of
traversing the Atlantic in a day, and of soaring beyond the limits of
the atmosphere at will, is possessed by one man only, and that man is an
English nobleman. The air is full of rumours of universal war. One
vessel such as this could scatter terror over a continent in a few days,
demoralise armies and fleets, reduce Society to chaos, and establish a
one-man despotism on the ruins of all the Governments of the world. The
man who could build one ship like this could build fifty, and, if his
country asked him to do it, no doubt he would. Those who, as we are
almost forced to believe, are even now contemplating a serious attempt
to dethrone England from her supreme place among the nations of Europe,
will do well to take this latest potential factor in the warfare of the
immediate future into their most serious consideration."

This paragraph was not perhaps as absolutely correct as a proposition in
Euclid, but it stopped the war. The _Deutschland_ came in the next day,
and again the press was flooded, this time with personal narratives, and
brilliantly imaginative descriptions of the Vision which had descended
from the clouds, made rings round the great liner going at her best
speed, and then vanished in an instant beyond the range of field-glasses
and telescopes.

Thus did the creature of Professor Rennick's inventive genius play its
first part as the peacemaker of the world.

When the _Astronef's_ message had been duly given and recorded, her
propellers began to revolve, and her head swung round to the north-east.
So began, as all the world now knows, the most extraordinary
electioneering trip that ever was known. First Baltimore, then
Philadelphia, and then New York saw the flashes in the sky. There were
illuminations, torchlight processions, and all the machinery of American
electioneering going at full blast. But when people saw, far away up in
the starlit night, those swiftly-changing beams glittering down, as it
were, out of infinite Space, and when the telegraph operators caught on
to the fact that they were signals, a sort of awe seemed to come over
both Republicans and Democrats alike. Even Tammany's thoughts began to
lift above the sordid level of boodle. It was almost like a message from
another world. There was something supernatural about it, and when it
was translated and rushed out in extra editions of the evening papers:
"Vote for sound men and sound money" became the watchword of millions.

From New York to Boston, Boston to Albany, and then across country to
Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, Omaha--then westward to St. Paul and
Minneapolis, and northward to Portland and Seattle, southward to San
Francisco and Monterey, then eastward again to Salt Lake City, and then,
after a leap across the Rockies which frightened Mrs. Van Stuyler almost
to fainting point and made Zaidie gasp for breath, away southward to
Santa Fé and New Orleans.

Then northward again up the Mississippi Valley to St. Louis, and thence
eastward across the Alleghanies back to Washington--such was the famous
night-voyage of the _Astronef_, and so by means of that long silver
tongue of light did she spread the message of common-sense and
commercial honesty throughout the length and breadth of the Great
Republic. The world knows how America received and interpreted it the
next day.

Meanwhile Mr. Russell Rennick had taken train to Washington, and the day
after the election he willingly took back all that he had intended with
regard to the Marquis of Byfleet, accepted Lord Redgrave in his stead,
and bestowed his avuncular blessing at the wedding breakfast held in the
deck-chamber of the _Astronef_ poised in mid-air, five hundred feet
above the dome of the Capitol, a week later. To this he added a cheque
for a million dollars--payable to the Countess of Redgrave on her return
from her wedding trip.

Breakfast over, the wedding party made an inspection of the wonderful
vessel under the guidance of her Commander. After this, while they were
drinking their coffee and liqueurs, and the men were smoking their
cigars in the deck-chamber, a score of the most distinguished men and
women in the United States experienced the novel sensation of sitting
quietly in deck-chairs while they were being hurled at the rate of a
hundred and fifty miles an hour through the atmosphere.

They ran up to Niagara, dropped to within a few feet of the surface of
the Falls, passed over them, fell to the Rapids, and drifted down them
within a couple of yards of the raging waters. Then in an instant they
leapt up into the clouds, dropped again, and took a slanting course for
Washington at a speed incredible, but to them quite imperceptible, save
for the blurred rush of the half-visible earth behind them.

That night the _Astronef_ rested again in front of the steps of the
White House, and Lord and Lady Redgrave were the guests at a
semi-official banquet given by the newly re-elected President. The
speech of the evening was made by the President himself in proposing the
health of the bride and bridegroom, and this is the way he ended:

"There is something more in the ceremony which we have been privileged
to witness than the union of a man and a woman in the bonds of holy
matrimony. Lord Redgrave, as you know, is the descendant of one of the
noblest and most ancient families in the Motherland of New Nations. Lady
Redgrave is the daughter of the oldest and, I hope I may be allowed to
say without offence, the greatest of those nations. It is, perhaps,
early days to talk about a formal federation of the Anglo-Saxon people,
but I think I am only voicing the sentiments of every good American when
I say that, if the rumours which have drifted over and under the
Atlantic, rumours of a determined attempt on the part of certain
European powers to assault and, if possible, destroy that magnificent
fortress of individual liberty and collective equity which we call the
British Empire should unhappily prove to be true, then it may be that
the rest of the world will find that America does not speak English for
nothing.

"But I must also remind you that a few yards from the doors of the White
House there lies the greatest marvel, I had almost said the greatest
miracle, that has ever been accomplished by human genius and human
industry. That wonderful vessel in which some of us have been privileged
to take the most marvellous journey in the history of mechanical
locomotion was thought out by an American man of science, the man whose
daughter sits on my right hand to-night. In her concrete material form
this vessel, destined to navigate the shoreless Ocean of Space, is
English. But she is also the result of the belief and the faith of an
Englishman in an American ideal.... So when she leaves this earth, as
she will do in an hour or so, to enter the confines of other worlds than
this--and, it may be, to make the acquaintance of peoples other than
those who inhabit the earth--she will have done infinitely more than she
has already done, incredible as that seems. She will not only have
convinced this world that the greatest triumph of human genius is of
Anglo-Saxon origin, but she will carry to other worlds than this the
truth which this world will have learnt before the nineteenth century
ends.

"England in the person of Lord Redgrave, and America in the person of
his Countess, leave this world to-night to tell the other worlds of our
system, if haply they may find some intelligible means of communication,
what this world, good and bad, is like. And it is within the bounds of
possibility that in doing so they may inaugurate a wider fellowship of
created beings than the limits of this world permit; a fellowship, a
friendship, and, as the _Astronef_ entitles us to believe, even a
physical communication of world with world which, in the dawn of the
twentieth century, may transcend in sober fact the wildest dreams of all
the philanthropists and the philosophers who have sought to educate
humanity from Socrates to Herbert Spencer."



CHAPTER VI


After the _Astronef's_ forward searchlight had flashed its farewells to
the thronging, cheering crowds of Washington, her propellers began to
whirl, and she swung round northward on her way to say goodbye to the
Empire City.

A little before midnight her two lights flashed down over New York and
Brooklyn, and were almost instantly answered by hundreds of electric
beams streaming up from different parts of the Twin Cities, and from
several men-of-war lying in the bay and the river.

"Goodbye for the present! Have you any messages for Mars?" flickered out
from above the _Astronef's_ conning-tower.

What Uncle Sam's message was, if he had one, was never deciphered, for
fifty beams began dotting and dashing at once, and the result was that
nothing but a blur of many mingled rays reached the conning-tower from
which Lord Redgrave and his bride were taking their last look at human
habitations.

"You might have known that they would all answer at once," said Zaidie.
"I suppose the newspapers, of course, want interviews with the leading
Martians, and the others want to know what there is to be done in the
way of trade. Anyhow, it would be a feather in Uncle Sam's cap if he
made the first Reciprocity Treaty with another world."

"And then proceeded to corner the commerce of the Solar System," laughed
Redgrave. "Well, we'll see what can be done. Although I think, as an
Englishman, I ought to look after the Open Door."

"So that the Germans could get in before you, eh? That's just like you
dear, good-natured English. But look," she went on, pointing downwards,
"they're signalling again, all at once this time."

Half a dozen beams shone out together from the principal newspaper
offices of New York. Then simultaneously they began the dotting and
dashing again. Redgrave took them down in pencil, and when the
signalling had stopped he read off:

"No war. Dual Alliance climbs down. Don't like idea of _Astronef_.
Cables just received. Goodbye, and good luck! Come back soon, and safe!"

"What? We have stopped the war!" exclaimed Zaidie, clasping his arm.
"Well, thank God for that. How could we begin our voyage better? You
remember what we were saying the other day, Lenox. If that's only true,
my father somewhere knows now what a blessing he has given his brother
men! We've stopped a war which might have deluged the world in blood.
We've saved perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives, and kept sorrow from
thousands of homes. Lenox, when we get back, you and the States and the
British Government will have to build a fleet of these ships, and then
the Anglo-Saxon race must say to the rest of the world----"

"The millennium has come and its presiding goddess is Zaidie Redgrave.
If you don't stop fighting, disband your armies and turn your fleets
into liners and cargo boats, she'll proceed to sink your ships and
decimate your armies until you learn sense. Is that what you mean,
dear?" laughed Redgrave, as he slipped his left hand round her waist and
laid his right on the searchlight-switch to reply to the message.

"Don't be ridiculous, Lenox. Still, I suppose that is something like it.
They wouldn't deserve anything else if they were fools enough to go on
fighting after they knew we could wipe them out."

"Exactly. I perfectly agree with your Ladyship, but still sufficient
unto the day is the Armageddon thereof. Now I suppose we'd better say
goodbye and be off."

"And what a goodbye," whispered Zaidie, with an upward glance into the
starlit ocean of Space which lay above and around them. "Goodbye to the
world itself! Well, say it, Lenox, and let us go; I want to see what the
others are like."

"Very well then; goodbye it is," he said, beginning to jerk the switch
backwards and forwards with irregular motions, sending short flashes and
longer beams down towards the earth.

The Empire City read the farewell message.

"Thank God for the peace. Goodbye for the present. We shall convey the
joint compliments of John Bull and Uncle Sam to the peoples of the
planets when we find them. _Au revoir!_"

The message was answered by the blaze of the concentrated searchlights
from land and sea all directed on the _Astronef_. For a moment her
shining shape glittered like a speck of diamond in the midst of the
luminous haze far up in the sky, and then it vanished for many an
anxious day from mortal sight.

A few moments later Zaidie pointed over the stern and said:

"Look, there's the moon! Just fancy--our first stopping place! Well, it
doesn't look so very far off at present."

Redgrave turned and saw the pale yellow crescent of the new moon
swimming high above the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

"It almost looks as if we could steer straight to it right over the
water--only, of course, it wouldn't wait there for us," she went on.

"Oh, it'll be there when we want it, never fear," he laughed, "and,
after all, it's only a mere matter of about two hundred and forty
thousand miles away, and what's that in a trip that will cover hundreds
of millions? It will just be a sort of jumping-off place into Space for
us."

"Still, I shouldn't like to miss seeing it," she said. "I want to see
what there is on that other side which nobody has ever seen yet, and
settle that question about air and water. Won't it just be heavenly to
be able to come back and tell them all about it at home? But just fancy
me talking stuff like this when we are going, perhaps, to solve some of
the hidden mysteries of Creation, and, may be, look upon things that
human eyes were never meant to see," she went on, with a sudden change
in her voice.

He felt a little shiver in the arm that was resting upon his, and his
hand went down and caught hers.

"Well, we shall see a good many marvels, and, perhaps, miracles, before
we come back, but why should there be anything in Creation that the eyes
of created beings should not look upon? Anyhow, there's one thing we
shall do I hope, we shall solve once and for all the great problem of
the worlds.

"Look, for instance," he went on, turning round and pointing to the
west, "there is Venus following the sun. In a few days I hope you and I
will be standing on her surface, perhaps trying to talk by signs with
her inhabitants, and taking photographs of her scenery. There's Mars
too, that little red one up yonder. Before we come back we shall have
settled a good many problems about him, too. We shall have navigated the
rings of Saturn, and perhaps graphed them from his surface. We shall
have crossed the bands of Jupiter, and found out whether they are clouds
or not; perhaps we shall have landed on one of his moons and taken a
voyage round him.

"Still, that's not the question just now, and if you are in a hurry to
circumnavigate the moon we'd better begin to get a wriggle on us as they
say down yonder; so come below and we'll shut up. A bit later I'll show
you something that no human eyes have ever seen."

"What's that?" she asked as they turned away towards the companion
ladder.

"I won't spoil it by telling you," he said, stopping at the top of the
stairs and taking her by the shoulders. "By the way," he went on, "I may
remind your Ladyship that you are just now drawing the last breaths of
earthly air which you will taste for some time, in fact until we get
back. And you may as well take your last look at earth as earth, for the
next time you see it it will be a planet."

She turned to the open window and looked over into the enormous void
beneath, for all this time the _Astronef_ had been mounting swiftly
towards the zenith.

She could see, by the growing moonlight, vast, vague shapes of land and
sea. The myriad lights of New York and Brooklyn were mingled in a tiny
patch of dimly luminous haze. The air about her had suddenly grown
bitterly cold, and she saw that the stars and planets were shining with
a brilliancy she had never seen before. Redgrave came back to her, and
laying his arm across her shoulder, said:

"Well, have you said goodbye to your native world? It is a bit solemn,
isn't it, saying goodbye to a world that you have been born on; which
contains everything that has made up your life, everything that is dear
to you?"

"Not quite everything," she said, looking up at him--"at least I don't
think so."

He lost no time in making the only reply which was appropriate under the
circumstances; and then he said, drawing her close to him:

"Nor I, as _you_ know, darling. This is our world, a world travelling
among worlds, and since I have been able to bring the most delightful of
the daughters of Terra with me, I, at any rate, am perfectly happy. Now,
I think it's getting on to supper time, so if your Ladyship will go to
your household duties, I'll have a look at my engines and make
everything snug for the voyage."

The first thing he did when he left the conning-tower was to
hermetically close every external opening in the ship. Then he went and
carefully inspected the apparatus for purifying the air and supplying it
with fresh oxygen from the tanks in which it was stored in liquid form.
Lastly he descended into the lower hold and turned on the energy of
repulsion to its fullest extent, at the same time stopping the engines
which had been working the propellers.

It was now no longer necessary or even possible to steer the _Astronef_.
She was directed solely by the repulsive force which would carry her
with ever-increasing swiftness, as the attraction of the earth
diminished, towards that neutral point at which the attraction of the
earth is exactly balanced by the moon. Her momentum would carry her past
this point, and then the "R. Force" would be gradually brought into play
in order to avert the unpleasant consequences of a fall of some forty
odd thousand miles.

Andrew Murgatroyd, relieved from his duties in the wheel-house, made a
careful inspection of the auxiliary machinery, which was under his
special charge, and then retired to his quarters in the after end of the
vessel to prepare his own evening meal.

Meanwhile, her Ladyship, with the help of the ingenious contrivances
with which the kitchen of the _Astronef_ was stocked, had prepared a
dainty little _souper à deux_. Her husband opened a bottle of the finest
champagne that the cellars of Smeaton could supply, to drink to the
prosperity of the voyage, and the health of his beautiful
fellow-voyager. When he had filled the two tall glasses the wine began
to run over the side which was toward the stern of the vessel. They took
no notice of this at first, but when Zaidie put her glass down she
stared at it for a moment, and said, in a half-frightened voice:

"Why, what's the matter, Lenox? look at the wine! It won't keep
straight, and yet the table's perfectly level--and see! the water in the
jug looks as though it were going to run up the side."

Redgrave took up the glass and held it balanced in his hand. When he had
got the surface of the wine level the glass was no longer perpendicular
to the table.

"Ah, I see what it is," he said, taking another sip and putting the
glass down. "You notice that, although the wine isn't lying straight in
the glass, it isn't moving about. It's just as still as it would be on
earth. That means that our centre of gravity is not exactly in line with
the centre of the earth. We haven't quite swung into our proper
position, and that reminds me, dear. You will have to be prepared for
some rather curious experiences in that way. For instance, just see if
that jug of water is as heavy as it ought to be."

She took hold of the handle, and exerting, as she thought, just enough
force to lift the jug a few inches, was astonished to find herself
holding it out at arm's length with scarcely any effort. She put it down
again very carefully as though she were afraid it would go floating off
the table, and said, looking rather scared:

"That's very strange, but I suppose it's all perfectly natural?"

"Perfectly; it merely means that we have left Mother Earth a good long
way behind us."

"How far?" she asked.

"I can't tell you exactly," he replied, "until I go to the
instrument-room and take the angles, but I should say roughly about
seventy thousand miles. When we've finished we'll go and have coffee on
the upper deck, and then we shall see something of the glories of Space
as no human eyes have ever seen them before."

"Seventy thousand miles away from home already, and we only started a
couple of hours ago!" Zaidie found the idea a trifle terrifying, and
finished her meal almost in silence. When she got up she was not a
little disconcerted when the effort she made not only took her off her
chair but off her feet as well. She rose into the air nearly to the
surface of the table.

"Sakes!" she said, "this is getting quite a little embarrassing; I shall
be hitting my head against the roof next."

"Oh, you'll soon get used to it," he laughed, pulling her down on to her
feet by the skirt of her dress; "always remember to exert very little
strength in everything you do, and don't forget to do everything very
slowly."

When the coffee was made he carried the apparatus up into the
deck-chamber. Then he came back and said:

"You'd better wrap yourself up warmly. It's a good deal colder up there
than it is here."

When she reached the deck and took a first glance about her, Zaidie
seemed suddenly to lapse into a state of somnambulism.

The whole heavens above and around were strewn with thick clusters of
stars which she had never seen before. The stars she remembered seeing
from the earth were only pin-points in the darkness compared with the
myriads of blazing orbs which were now shooting their rays across the
black void of Space.

So many millions of new ones had come into view, that she looked in vain
for the familiar constellations. She saw only vast clusters of living
gems of every colour crowding the heavens on every side of her.

She walked slowly round the deck, gazing to right and left and above,
incapable for the moment either of thought or speech, but only of dumb
wonder, mingled with a dim sense of overwhelming awe. Presently she
craned her neck backwards and looked straight up to the zenith. A huge
silver crescent, supporting, as it were, a dim greenish-coloured body in
its arms, stretched overhead across nearly a sixth of the heavens.

Then Redgrave came to her side, took her in his arms, lifted her as if
she had been a little child, and laid her in a long, low deck-chair, so
that she could look at it without inconvenience.

The splendid crescent seemed to be growing visibly bigger, and as she
lay there in a trance of wonder and admiration she saw point after point
of dazzling white light flash out in the dark portions, and then begin
to send out rays as though they were gigantic volcanoes in full
eruption, and were pouring torrents of living fire from their blazing
craters.

"Sunrise on the Moon!" said Redgrave, who had stretched himself on
another chair beside her. "A glorious sight, isn't it? But nothing to
what we shall see to-morrow morning--only there doesn't happen to be any
morning just about here."

"Yes," she said dreamily, "glorious, isn't it? That and all the
stars--but I can't think anything yet, Lenox, it's all too mighty and
too marvellous. It doesn't seem as though human eyes were meant to look
upon things like this. But where's the earth? We must be able to see
that still."

"Not from here," he said, "because it's underneath us. Come below now,
and you shall see what I promised you."

They went down into the lower part of the vessel and to the after end
behind the engine-room. Redgrave switched on a couple of electric
lights, and then pulled a lever attached to one of the side-walls. A
part of the flooring about six feet square slid noiselessly away; then
he pulled another lever on the opposite side and a similar piece
disappeared, leaving a large space covered only by a thick plate of
absolutely transparent glass. He switched off the lights again and led
her to the edge of it, and said:

"There is your native world, dear. That is your Mother Earth."

Wonderful as the moon had seemed, the gorgeous spectacle which lay
seemingly at her feet was infinitely more magnificent. A vast disc of
silver grey, streaked and dotted with lines and points of dazzling
lights, and more than half covered with vast, glimmering, greyish-green
expanses, seemed to form the floor of the tremendous gulf beneath them.
They were not yet too far away to make out the general features of the
continents and oceans, and fortunately the hemisphere presented to them
happened to be singularly free from clouds.

To the right spread out the majestic outlines of the continents of North
and South America, and to the left Asia, the Malay Archipelago, and
Australia. At the top was a vast, roughly circular area of dazzling
whiteness, and Redgrave, pointing to this, said:

"There, look up a little further north than the middle of that white
patch, and you'll see what no eyes but yours and mine have ever
seen--the North Pole! When we come back we shall see the South Pole,
because we shall approach the earth from the other end, as it were.

"I suppose you recognise a good deal of the picture. All that bright
part up to the north, with the black spots on it, is Canada. The black
spots are forests. That long white line to the left is the Rockies. You
see they're all bright at the north, and as you go south you only see a
few bright dots. Those are the snow-peaks.

"Those long thin white lines in South America are the tops of the Andes,
and the big, dark patches to the right of them are the forests and
plains of Brazil and the Argentine. Not a bad way of studying geography,
is it? If we stopped here long enough we should see the whole earth spin
right round under us, but we haven't time for that. We shall be in the
moon before it's morning in New York, but we shall probably get a
glimpse of Europe to-morrow."

Zaidie stood gazing for nearly an hour at this marvellous vision of the
home-world which she had left so far behind her before she could tear
herself away and allow her husband to shut the slides again. The greatly
diminished weight of her body destroyed the fatigue of standing almost
entirely. In fact, on board the _Astronef_ just then it was almost as
easy to stand as it was to lie down.

There was of course very little sleep for the travellers on this first
night of their wonderful voyage, but towards the sixth hour after
leaving the earth, Zaidie, overcome as much by the emotions which had
been awakened within her as by physical fatigue, went to bed, after
making her husband promise that he would wake her in good time to see
the descent upon the moon. Two hours later she was awake and drinking
the coffee which he had prepared for her. Then she went on to the upper
deck.

To her astonishment she found, on one hand, day more brilliant than she
had ever seen it before, and on the other hand darkness blacker than the
blackest earthly night. On the right was an intensely brilliant orb,
about half as large again as the full moon seen from the earth, shining
with inconceivable brightness out of a sky black as midnight and
thronged with stars. It was the Sun; the Sun shining in the midst of
airless Space.

The tiny atmosphere enclosed in the glass-domed deck-space was lighted
brilliantly, but it was not perceptibly warmer, though Redgrave warned
her not to touch anything upon which the sun's rays fell directly, as
she might find it uncomfortably hot. On the other side was the same
black immensity which she had seen the night before, an ocean of
darkness clustered with islands of light. High above in the zenith
floated the great silver-grey disc of earth, a good deal smaller now.
But there was another object beneath them which was at present of far
more interest to her.

Looking down to the left, she saw a vast semi-luminous area in which not
a star was to be seen. It was the earth-lit portion of the long familiar
and yet mysterious orb which was to be their resting place for the next
few hours.

"The sun hasn't risen over there yet," said Redgrave, as she was peering
down into the void. "It's earth-light still. Now look at the other
side."

She crossed the deck, and saw the strangest scene she had yet beheld.
Apparently only a few miles below her was a huge crescent-shaped plain
arching away for hundreds of miles on either side. The outer edge had a
ragged look, and little excrescences, which soon took the shape of
flat-topped mountains, projected from it and stood out bright and sharp
against the black void beneath, out of which the stars shone up, as it
seemed, a few feet beyond the edge of the disc.

The plain itself was a scene of awful and utter desolation. Huge
mountain-walls, towering to immense heights and enclosing great circular
and oval plains, one side of them blazing with intolerable light, and
the other side black with impenetrable obscurity; enormous valleys
reaching down from brilliant day into rayless night--perhaps down into
the very bowels of the dead world itself; vast grey-white plains lying
round the mountains, crossed by little ridges and by long black lines,
which could only be immense fissures with perpendicular sides--but all
hard, grey-white and black, all intolerable brightness or inky gloom;
not a sign of life anywhere; no shady forests, no green fields, no
broad, glittering oceans; only a ghastly wilderness of dead mountains
and dead plains.

"What an awful place," Zaidie whispered. "Surely we can't land there.
How far are we from it?"

"About fifteen hundred miles," replied Redgrave, who was sweeping the
scene below him with one of the two powerful telescopes which stood on
the deck. "No, it doesn't look very cheerful, does it? But it's a
marvellous sight for all that, and one that a good many people on earth
would give one of their eyes to see from here. I'm letting her drop
pretty fast, and we shall probably land in a couple of hours or so.
Meanwhile you may as well get out your moon atlas, and study your
lunography. I'm going to turn the power a bit astern so that we shall go
down obliquely, and see more of the lighted disc. We started at new moon
so that you should have a look at the full earth, and also so that we
could get round to the invisible side while it is lighted up."

They both went below, he to deflect the repulsive force so that one set
of engines should give them a somewhat oblique direction, while the
other, acting directly on the surface of the moon, simply retarded their
fall; and she to get out her maps.

When they got back the _Astronef_ had changed her apparent position,
and, instead of falling directly on to the moon, was descending towards
it in a slanting direction. The result of this was that the sunlit
crescent rapidly grew in breadth. Peak after peak and range after range
rose up swiftly out of the black gulf beyond. The sun climbed quickly up
through the star-strewn, mid-day heavens, and the full earth sank more
swiftly still behind them.

Another hour of silent, entranced wonder and admiration followed, and
then Redgrave said:

"Don't you think it's about time we were beginning to think of
breakfast, dear--or do you think you can wait till we land?"

"Breakfast on the moon!" she exclaimed. "That would be just too lovely
for words--of course we'll wait!"

"Very well," he said; "you see that big black ring nearly below
us?--that, as I suppose you know, is the celebrated Mount Tycho. I'll
try and find a convenient spot on the top of the ring to drop on, and
then you will be able to survey the scenery from seventeen or eighteen
thousand feet above the plains."

About two hours later a slight, jarring tremor ran through the frame of
the vessel, and the first stage of the voyage was ended. After a passage
of less than twelve hours the _Astronef_ had crossed a gulf of nearly
two hundred and fifty thousand miles, and rested on the untrodden
surface of the lunar world.



CHAPTER VII


"Well, Madame, we've arrived. This is the moon and there is the earth.
To put it into plain figures, you are now two hundred and forty thousand
odd miles away from home. I think you said you would like breakfast on
the surface of the World that Has Been, and so, as it's about eleven
o'clock earth-time, we'll call it a _déjeuner_, and then we'll go and
see what this poor old skeleton of a world is like."

"Oh, then we shan't actually have breakfast on the moon?"

"My dear child, of course you will. Isn't the _Astronef_ resting
now--right now as they say in some parts of the States--on the top of
the crater wall of Tycho? Aren't we really and actually on the surface
of the moon? Just look at this frightful black and white, god-forsaken
landscape! Isn't it like everything that you've ever learnt about the
moon? Nothing but light and shade, black and white, peaks of mountains
blazing in sunlight, and valleys underneath them as black as the hinges
of----"

"Tophet," said Zaidie, interrupting him quickly. "Yes, I see what you
mean. So we'll have our _déjeuner_ here, breathing our own nice
atmosphere, and eating and drinking what was grown on the soil of dear
old Mother Earth. It's a wee bit paralysing to think of, isn't it, dear?
Two hundred and forty thousand miles across the gulf of Space--and we
sitting here at our breakfast table just as comfortable as though we
were in the Cecil in London, or the Waldorf-Astoria in New York!"

"There's nothing much in that, I mean as regards distance. You see,
before we've finished we shall probably, at least I hope we shall, be
eating a breakfast or a dinner together a thousand million miles or more
from New York or London. Your Ladyship must remember that this is only
the first stage on the journey, the jumping-off place as you called it.
You see the distance from Washington to New York is--well, it isn't even
a hop, skip and a jump in comparison with----"

"Oh yes, I see what you mean of course, and so I suppose I had better
cut off or short-circuit such sympathies with Mother Earth as are not
connected with your noble self, and get breakfast ready. How's that?"

"Well," said Lord Redgrave, looking at her as she rose from the table,
"I think our honeymoon in Space is young enough yet to make it possible
for me to say that your Ladyship's opinion is exactly right."

"That's a hopeless commonplace! Really, Lenox, I thought you were
capable of something better than that."

"My dear Zaidie, it has been my fate to have many friends who have had
honeymoons on earth, and some of their experience seems to be that the
man who contradicts his wife during the first six weeks of matrimony
simply makes an ass of himself. He offends her and makes himself
unhappy, and it sometimes takes six months or more to get back to
bearings."

"What a lot of silly men and women you must have known, Lenox. Is that
the way Englishmen start marriage in England? If it is, I don't wonder
at Englishmen coming across the Atlantic in liners and air-ships and so
on to get American wives. I guess you can't understand your own
womenfolk."

"Or perhaps they don't understand us; but anyhow, I don't think I've
made any great mistake."

"No, I don't think you have. Of course if I thought so I wouldn't be
here now. But this is very well for a breakfast talk; all the same, I
should like to know how we are going to take the promenade you promised
me on the surface of the moon?"

"Your Ladyship has only to finish her breakfast, and then everything
shall be made plain to her, even the deepest craters of the mountains of
the moon."

"Very well, then, I will eat swiftly and in obedience; and meanwhile, as
your Lordship seems to have finished, perhaps----"

"Yes, I will go and see to the mechanical necessities," said Redgrave,
swallowing his last cup of coffee, and getting up. "If you'll come down
to the lower deck when you've finished, I'll have your breathing-suit
ready for you, and then we'll go into the air-chamber."

"Thanks, dear, yes," she said, putting out her hand to him as he left
the table, "the ante-chamber to other worlds. Isn't it just lovely?
Fancy me being able to leave one world and land on another, and have you
to say just those few words which make it all possible. I wonder what
all the girls of all the civilised countries of earth would give just to
be me right now."

"They could none of them give what you gave me, Zaidie, because you see
from my point of view there's only one Zaidie in the world--or as
perhaps I ought to say just now, in the Solar System."

"Very prettily said, sir!" she laughed, when she had given him his due
reward for his courtly speech. "I am too dazed with all these wonders
about me to----"

"To reply to it? You've given me the most convincing reply possible. Now
finish your breakfast, and I'll tell you when the breathing-dresses and
the air-chamber are ready. By the way, don't forget your cameras. It's
quite possible we may find something worth taking pictures of, and you
needn't trouble much about the weight. You know, you and I and all that
we carry will only weigh about a sixth of what we did on the earth."

"Very well, then, I'll take the whole-plate apparatus as well as the
kodak and the panorama camera. When I'm ready, Murgatroyd will tell you
to come down."

"But isn't he coming with us too?"

"My dear girl, if I were to ask Murgatroyd to leave the _Astronef_
there'd be a mutiny on board--a mutiny of one against one. No, he's left
his native world; but he says he's done it in a ship that's made with
British steel out of English iron mines, smelted, forged and fashioned
in English works, and so to him it's a bit of England, however far away
from Mother Earth it may be; and if you ever see Andrew Murgatroyd's big
head and good, ungainly body outside the _Astronef_ in any of the
worlds, dead or alive, that we're going to visit--well, when we get back
to Mother Earth you may ask me----"

"I don't think I'll have to ask you for anything, Lenox. I believe if I
wanted anything you'd know before I did, so go away and get those
breathing-dresses ready. I didn't come to the moon to talk commonplaces
with a husband I've been married to for nearly three days."

"Is it really as long as that?"

"Oh, don't be ridiculous, even if you are beyond the limits of earthly
conventionalities. Anyhow, I've been married long enough to want my own
way, and just now I want a promenade on the moon."

"The will of her Ladyship is a law unto her servant, and that which she
hath said shall be done! If you come down on to the lower deck in ten
minutes everything shall be ready."

With this he disappeared down the companion-way.

About five minutes afterwards Andrew Murgatroyd showed his grizzled,
long-bearded face with its high forehead, heavy brows, and broad-set
eyes, long nose and shaven upper lip, just above the stairway and said,
for all the world as though he might have been giving out the number of
the hymn in his beloved Ebenezer at Smeaton:

"If it pleases yer Ladyship, his Lordship is ready, and if you'll please
come down I'll show you the way."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Murgatroyd!" said Zaidie, getting up and going
towards the companion-way; "but I'm afraid you don't think that--I mean
you don't seem to take very much interest----"

"If your Ladyship will pardon me," said the old man, standing aside to
let her go down, "it is not my business to think on board his Lordship's
vessel. I am his servant, and my fathers have been his fathers' servants
for more years than I'd like to count. If it wasn't that way I wouldn't
be here. Will your Ladyship please to come down?"

Zaidie bowed her beautiful head in recognition of this ages-old
devotion, and said as she passed him, more sweetly than he had ever
heard human lips speak:

"Thank you, Mr. Murgatroyd. You've taught me something in those few
words that we have no knowledge of in the States. Good service is as
honourable as good mastership. Thank you."

Murgatroyd put up his lower lip and half smiled with his upper, for he
was not yet quite sure of this radiant beauty, who, according to his
ideas, should have been English and wasn't. Then, with a rather clumsy
and yet eloquent gesture, he showed her the way down to the air-chamber.

She nodded to him with a smile as she passed in through the air-tight
door, and when she heard the levers swing to and the bolts shoot into
their places she felt as though, for the time being, she had said
goodbye to a friend.

Her husband was waiting for her almost fully clad in his
breathing-dress. He had hers all ready to put on, and when the necessary
changes and investments had been made, Zaidie found herself clad in a
costume which was not by any means unlike the diving-dresses of common
use, save that they were very much lighter in construction.

The helmets were smaller, and not having to withstand outside pressure
they were made of welded aluminum, lined thickly with asbestos, not to
keep the cold out, but the heat in. On the back of the dress there was a
square case, looking like a knapsack, containing the expanding
apparatus, which would furnish breathable air for an almost unlimited
time as long as the liquefied air from a cylinder hung below it passed
through the cells in which the breathed air had been deprived of its
carbonic acid gas and other noxious ingredients.

The pressure of air inside the helmet automatically regulated the
supply, which was not permitted to circulate through the other portions
of the dress. The reasons for this precaution were very simple. Granted
the absence of atmosphere on the moon, any air in the dress, which was
woven of a cunning compound of silk and asbestos, would instantly expand
with irresistible force, burst the covering, and expose the limbs of the
explorers to a cold which would be infinitely more destructive than the
hottest of earthly fires. It would wither them to nothing in a moment.

A human hand or foot--we won't say anything about faces--exposed to the
summer or winter temperature of the moon--that is to say, to its
sunlight and its darkness--would be shrivelled into dry bone in a
moment, and therefore Lord Redgrave, foreseeing this, had provided the
breathing-dresses. Lastly, the two helmets were connected, for purposes
of conversation, by a light wire, the two ends of which were connected
with a little telephonic receiver and transmitter inside each of the
head-dresses.

"Well, now I think we're ready," said Redgrave, putting his hand on the
lever which opened the outer door.

His voice sounded a little queer and squeaky over the wire, and for the
matter of that so did Zaidie's as she replied:

"Yes, I'm ready, I think. I hope these things will work all right."

"You may be quite sure that I shouldn't have put _you_ into one of them
if I hadn't tested them pretty thoroughly," he replied, swinging the
door open and throwing out a light folding iron ladder which was hinged
to the floor.

They were in the shade cast by the hull of the _Astronef_. For about ten
yards in front of her Zaidie saw a dense black shadow, and beyond it a
stretch of grey-white sand lit up by a glare of sunlight which would
have been intolerable if it had not been for the smoke-coloured slips of
glass which had been fitted behind the glass visors of the helmets.

Over it were thickly scattered boulders and pieces of rock bleached and
desiccated, and each throwing a black shadow, fantastically shaped and
yet clearly defined on the grey-white sand behind it. There was no soil,
and all the softer kind of rock and stone had crumbled away ages ago.
Every particle of moisture had long since evaporated; even chemical
combinations had been dissolved by the alternations of heat and cold
known only on earth to the chemist in his laboratory.

Only the hardest rocks, such as granites and basalts, remained.
Everything else had been reduced to the universal grey-white impalpable
powder into which Zaidie's shoes sank when she, holding her husband's
hand, went down the ladder and stood at the foot of it--first of the
earth-dwellers to set foot on another world.

Redgrave followed her with a little spring from the centre of the ladder
which landed him with strange gentleness beside her. He took both her
gloved hands and pressed them hard in his. He would have kissed his
welcome to the World that Had Been if he could, but that of course was
out of the question, and so he had to be content with telling her that
he wanted to.

Then, hand in hand, they crossed the little plateau towards the edge of
the tremendous gulf, fifty-four miles across and nearly twenty thousand
feet deep, which forms the crater of Tycho. In the middle of it rose a
conical mountain about five thousand feet high, the summit of which was
just beginning to catch the solar rays. Half of the vast plain was
already brilliantly illuminated, but round the central cone was a
semicircle of shadow of impenetrable blackness.

"Day and night in this same valley, actually side by side!" said Zaidie.
Then she stopped and pointed down into the brightly lit distance, and
went on hurriedly, "Look, Lenox; look at the foot of the mountain there!
Doesn't that seem like the ruins of a city?"

"It does," he said, "and there's no reason why it shouldn't be. I've
always thought that, as the air and water disappeared from the upper
parts of the moon, the inhabitants, whoever they were, must have been
driven down into the deeper parts. Shall we go down and see?"

"But how?" she said.

He pointed towards the _Astronef_. She nodded her helmeted head, and
they went back towards the vessel.

A few minutes later the Space-Navigator had risen from her resting-place
with an impetus which rapidly carried her over half of the vast crater,
and then she began to drop slowly into the depths. She grounded gently,
and presently they were standing on the ground about a mile from the
central cone. This time, however, Redgrave had taken the precaution to
bring a magazine rifle and a couple of revolvers with him in case any
strange monsters, relics of the vanished fauna of the moon, might still
be taking refuge in these mysterious depths. Zaidie, although like a
good many American girls she could shoot excellently well, carried no
weapon more offensive than the photographic apparatus aforesaid.

The first thing that Redgrave did when they stepped out on to the sandy
surface of the plain was to stoop down and strike a wax match. There was
a tiny glimmer of light, which was immediately extinguished.

"No air here," he said, "so we shall find no living beings--at any rate,
none like ourselves."

They found the walking exceedingly easy, although their boots were
purposely weighted in order to counteract, to some extent, the great
difference in gravity. A few minutes brought them to the outskirts of
the city. It had no walls and exhibited no signs of any devices for
defence. Its streets were broad and well-paved, and the houses, built of
great blocks of grey stone joined together with white cement, looked as
fresh and unworn as though they had only been built a few months,
whereas they had probably stood for hundreds of thousands of years. They
were flat-roofed, all of one storey and practically of one type.

There were very few public buildings, and absolutely no attempt at
ornamentation was visible. Round some of the houses were spaces which
might once have been gardens. In the midst of the city, which appeared
to cover an area of about four square miles, was an enormous square
paved with flag-stones, which were covered to the depth of a couple of
inches with a light grey dust, which, as they walked across it, remained
perfectly still save for the disturbance caused by their footsteps.
There was no air to support it, otherwise it might have risen in clouds
about them.

From the centre of this square rose a huge pyramid nearly a thousand
feet in height, the sole building of the great silent city which
appeared to have been raised most probably as a temple by the hands of
its long-dead inhabitants.

When they got nearer they saw a white fringe round the steps by which it
was approached, and they soon found that this fringe was composed of
millions of white-bleached bones and skulls, shaped very much like those
of terrestrial men, save that they were very much larger, and that the
ribs were out of all proportion to the rest of the skeleton.

They stopped awe-stricken before this strange spectacle. Redgrave
stooped down and took hold of one of the bones, a huge femur. It broke
in two as he tried to lift it, and the piece which remained in his hand
crumbled instantly to white powder.

"Whoever they were," he said, "they were giants. When air and water
failed above, they came down here by some means and built this city. You
see what enormous chests they must have had. That would be Nature's last
struggle to enable them to breathe the diminishing atmosphere. These, of
course, were the last descendants of the fittest to breathe it; this was
their temple, I suppose, and here they came to die--I wonder how many
thousand years ago--perishing of heat, and cold, and hunger, and thirst;
the last tragedy of a race, which, after all, must have been something
like ourselves."

"It's just too awful for words," said Zaidie. "Shall we go into the
temple? That seems one of the entrances up there, only I don't like
walking over all those bones."

"I don't suppose they'll mind if we do," replied Redgrave, "only we
mustn't go far in. It may be full of cross passages and mazes, and we
might never get out. Our lamps won't be much use in there, you know, for
there's no air. They'll just be points of light, and we shan't see
anything but them. It's very aggravating, but I'm afraid there's no help
for it. Come along."

They ascended the steps, crushing the bones and skulls to powder beneath
their feet, and entered the huge, square doorway, which looked like a
rectangle of blackness against the grey-white of the wall. Even through
their asbestos-woven clothing they felt a sudden shock of icy cold. In
those few steps they had passed from a temperature of tenfold summer
heat into one below that of the coldest spots on earth. They turned on
the electric lamps which were fitted to the breastplates of their
dresses, but they could see nothing save the thin thread of light
straight in front of them. It did not even spread. It was like a
polished needle on a background of black velvet.

All about them was darkness impenetrable, and so they reluctantly turned
back to the doorway, leaving all the mysteries which that vast temple of
a long-vanished people might contain to remain mysteries to the end of
time.

They passed down the steps again and crossed the square, and for the
next half-hour Zaidie was busy taking photographs of the pyramid with
its ghastly surroundings, and a few general views of this strange City
of the Dead.



CHAPTER VIII


When they got back they found Murgatroyd pacing up and down the floor of
the deck-chamber, looking about him with serious eyes, but betraying no
other visible sign of anxiety. The _Astronef_ was at once his home and
his idol, and, as Redgrave had said, even his own direct orders would
hardly have induced him to leave her even in a world in which there was
not a living human being to dispute possession of her.

When they had resumed their ordinary clothing the _Astronef_ rose from
the surface of the plain, crossed the encircling wall at the height of a
few hundred feet, and made her way at a speed of about fifty miles an
hour towards the regions of the South Pole.

Behind them to the north-west they could see from their elevation of
nearly thirty thousand feet the vast expanse of the Sea of Clouds.
Dotted here and there were the shining points and ridges of light
marking the peaks and crater-walls which the rays of the rising sun had
already touched. Before them and to the right and left rose a vast maze
of ragged, splintery peaks and huge ramparts of mountain-walls enclosing
plains so far below their summits that the light of neither sun nor
earth ever reached them.

By directing the force exerted by what might now be called the
propelling part of the engines against the mountain masses which they
crossed to right and left and behind, Redgrave was able to take a zigzag
course that carried them over many of the walled plains which were
wholly or partially lit up by the sun, and in nearly all of the deepest
their telescopes revealed something like what they had found within the
crater of Tycho. At length, pointing to a gigantic circle of white light
fringing an abyss of utter darkness, he said:

"There is Newton, the greatest mystery of the moon. Those inner walls
are twenty-four thousand feet high; that means that the bottom, which
has never been seen by human eyes, is about five thousand feet below the
surface of the moon. What do you say, dear--shall we go down and see if
the searchlight will show us anything? You know there may be something
like breathable air down there, and perhaps living creatures who can
breathe it."

"Certainly!" replied Zaidie decisively; "haven't we come to see things
that nobody else has ever seen?"

Redgrave went down to the engine-room, and presently the _Astronef_
changed her course, and in a few minutes was hanging with her polished
hull bathed in sunlight, like a star suspended over the unfathomable
gulf of darkness below.

As they sank below the level of the sun-rays, Murgatroyd turned on both
the searchlights. They dropped down ever slowly and more slowly until
gradually the two long, thin streams of light began to spread themselves
out; the lower they went the more the beams spread out, and by the time
the _Astronef_ came gently to a rest they were swinging round her in
broad fans of diffused light over a dark, marshy surface, with scattered
patches of grey moss and reeds, with dull gleams of stagnant water
showing between them.

"Air and water at last! I thought so," said Redgrave, as he rejoined her
on the upper deck; "air and water and eternal darkness! Well, we shall
find life on the moon here if anywhere."

"I suppose we had better put on our breathing-dresses, hadn't we?" asked
Zaidie.

"Certainly," he replied, "because, although there is some sort of air,
we don't know yet whether we shall be able to breathe it. It may be half
carbon-dioxide for all we know; but a few matches will soon tell us
that."

Within a quarter of an hour they were again standing on the surface.
Murgatroyd had orders to follow them as far as possible with the head
searchlight, which, in the comparatively rarefied atmosphere, appeared
to have a range of several miles. Redgrave struck a match, and held it
up level with his head; it burnt with a clear, steady, yellow flame.

"Where a match will burn a man should be able to breathe," he said. "I'm
going to see what lunar air is like."

"For Heaven's sake be careful, dear," came the reply in pleading tones
across the wire.

"All right; but don't open your helmet till I tell you."

He then raised the hermetically closed slide of glass, which formed the
front of the helmets, half an inch or so. Instantly he felt a sensation
like the drawing of a red-hot iron across his skin. He snapped the visor
down and clasped it in its place. For a moment or two he gasped for
breath, and then he said rather faintly:

"It's no good, it's too cold. It would freeze the blood of a salamander.
I think we'd better go back and explore this place under cover. We can't
do anything in the dark, and we can see just as well from the upper deck
with the searchlights. Besides, as there's air and water here, there's
no telling but there may be inhabitants of sorts such as we shouldn't
care to meet."

He took her hand, and to Murgatroyd's great relief they went back to the
vessel.

Redgrave then raised the _Astronef_ a couple of hundred feet and, by
directing the repulsive force against the mountain walls, developed just
sufficient energy to keep them moving at about twelve miles an hour.

They began to cross the plain with their searchlights flashing out in
all directions. They had scarcely gone a mile before the head-light fell
upon a moving form half walking, half crawling among some stunted
brown-leaved bushes by the side of a broad, stagnant stream.

"Look!" said Zaidie, clasping his arm, "is that a gorilla, or--no, it
_can't_ be a man."

The light was turned full upon the object. If it had been covered with
hair it might have passed for some strange type of the ape tribe, but
its skin was smooth and of a livid grey. Its lower limbs were evidently
more powerful than its upper; its chest was enormously developed, but
the stomach was small. The head was big and round and smooth. As they
came nearer they saw that in place of fingernails it had long white
feelers which it kept extended and constantly waving about as it groped
its way towards the water. As the intense light flashed full on it, it
turned its head towards them. It had a nose and a mouth--the nose, long
and thick, with huge mobile nostrils; the mouth forming an angle
something like a fish's lips. Teeth there seemed none. At either side of
the upper part of the nose there were two little sunken holes--in which
this thing's ancestors of countless thousands of years ago had once had
eyes.

As she looked upon this awful parody of what had once perhaps been a
human face, Zaidie covered hers with her hands and uttered a little moan
of horror.

"Horrible, isn't it?" said Redgrave. "I suppose that's what the last
remnants of the Lunarians have come to. Evidently once men and women,
something like ourselves. I daresay the ancestors of that thing have
lived here in coldness and darkness for hundreds of generations. It
shows how tremendously tenacious Nature is of life.

"Ages ago, no doubt, that brute's ancestors lived up yonder when there
were seas and rivers, fields and forests, just as we have them on earth,
among men and women who could see and breathe and enjoy everything in
life and had built up civilisations like ours!

"Look, it's going to fish or something. Now we shall see what it feeds
on. I wonder why the water isn't frozen. I suppose there must be some
internal heat left still. A few patches with lakes of lava under them.
Perhaps this valley is just over one, and that's why these creatures
have managed to survive.

"Ah! there's another of them, smaller, not so strongly formed. That
thing's mate, I suppose--female of the species. Ugh! I wonder how many
hundred of thousands of years it will take for _our_ descendants to come
to that."

"I hope our dear old earth will hit something else and be smashed to
atoms before that happens!" exclaimed Zaidie, whose curiosity had now
partly overcome her horror. "Look, it's trying to catch something!"

The larger of the two creatures had groped its way to the edge of the
sluggish, oily water and dropped, or rather rolled, quietly into it. It
was evidently cold-blooded, or nearly so, for no warm-blooded animal
would have taken to such water so naturally. Presently the other dropped
in too, and both disappeared for some moments. Then, in the midst of a
violent commotion in the water a few yards away, they rose to the
surface of the water, the larger with a wriggling, eel-like fish between
its jaws.

They both groped their way towards the edge, and had just reached it and
were pulling themselves out when a hideous shape rose out of the water
behind them. It was like the head of an octopus joined to the body of a
boa-constrictor, but head and neck were both of the same ghastly, livid
grey as the other two creatures. It was evidently blind, too, for it
took no notice of the brilliant glare of the searchlight, but it moved
rapidly towards the two scrambling forms, its long white feelers
trembling out in all directions. Then one of them touched the smaller of
the two shapes. Instantly the rest shot out and closed round it, and
with scarcely a struggle it was dragged beneath the water and vanished.

[Illustration: _A hideous shape rose out of the water behind them._]

Zaidie uttered a little low scream and covered her face again, and
Redgrave said:

"The same old brutal law you see, life preying upon life even on a dying
world, a world that is more than half dead itself. Well, I think we've
seen enough of this place. I suppose those are about the only types of
life we should meet anywhere, and I don't want to know much more about
them. I vote we go and see what the invisible hemisphere is like."

"I have had all I want of this side," said Zaidie, looking away from the
scene of the hideous tragedy, "so the sooner we go, the better I shall
like it."

A few minutes later the _Astronef_ was again rising towards the stars
with her searchlights still flashing down into the Valley of Expiring
Life, which had seemed to them even worse than the Valley of Death. As
he followed the rays with a pair of powerful field glasses, Redgrave
fancied that he saw huge, dim shapes moving about the stunted shrubbery
and through the slimy pools of the stagnant rivers, and once or twice he
got a glimpse of what might well have been the ruins of towns and
cities, but the gloom soon became too deep and dense for the
searchlights to pierce and he was glad when the _Astronef_ soared up
into the brilliant sunlight once more. Even the ghastly wilderness of
the lunar landscape was welcome after the nameless horrors of that
hideous abyss.

After a couple of hours' rapid travelling, Redgrave pointed down to a
comparatively small, deep crater, and said:

"There, that is Malapert. It is almost exactly at the south pole of the
moon, and there," he went on, pointing ahead, "is the horizon of the
hemisphere which no earthborn eyes have ever seen."

"Except ours," said Zaidie somewhat inconsequently, "and I wonder what
_we_ shall see."

"Probably something very like what we have seen on this side," replied
Redgrave, and as the event proved, he was right.

Contrary to many ingenious speculations which have been indulged in by
both scientist and romancer, they found that the hemisphere, which for
countless ages had never been turned towards the earth, was almost an
exact replica of the visible one. Fully three-fourths of it was
brilliantly illuminated by the sun, and what they saw through their
glasses was practically the same as what they had beheld on the
earthward side; huge groups of enormous craters and ringed mountains,
long, irregular chains crowned with sharp, splintery peaks, and between
these vast, deeply depressed areas, ranging in colour from dazzling
white to grey-brown, marking the beds of the vanished lunar seas.

As they crossed one of these, Redgrave allowed the _Astronef_ to sink to
within a few thousand feet of the surface, and then he and Zaidie swept
it with their telescopes. Their chance search was rewarded by something
they had not seen in the sea-beds of the other hemisphere.

These depressions were far deeper than the others, evidently many
thousands of feet below the average surface, but the sun's rays were
blazing full into this one, and, dotted round its slopes at varying
elevations, they made out little patches which seemed to differ from the
general surface.

"I wonder if those are the remains of cities," said Zaidie. "Isn't it
possible that the old peoples of the moon might have built their cities
along the seas just as we do, and that their descendants may have
followed the waters as they retreated, I mean as they either dried up or
disappeared into the centre?"

"Very probable indeed, dearest of philosophers," he said, picking her up
with one arm and kissing the smiling lips which had just uttered this
most reasonable deduction. "Now we'll go down and see."

He diminished the vertically repulsive force a little, and the
_Astronef_ dropped slantingly towards the bed of what might once have
been the Pacific of the Moon.

When they were within about a couple of thousand feet of the surface it
became perfectly plain that Zaidie was correct in her hypothesis. The
vast sea floor was thickly strewn with the ruins of countless cities and
towns, which had been inhabited by an equally countless series of
generations of men and women, who had perhaps lived and loved in the
days when our own world was a glowing mass of molten rock, surrounded by
the envelope of vapours which has since condensed to form our oceans.

They dropped still lower and ran diagonally across the ocean-bed, and as
they did so Zaidie's proposition was more and more completely confirmed,
for they saw that the towns and cities which stood highest were the most
dilapidated, and that the buildings had evidently been torn and crumbled
away by the action of wind and water, snow and ice.

The nearer they approached to the central and deepest depression, the
better preserved and the simpler the buildings became, until down in the
lowest depths they found a collection of low-built square edifices,
scarcely better than huts, which had clustered round the little lake
into which, ages before, the ocean had dwindled. But where the lake had
been there was now only a shallow depression covered with grey sand and
brown rock.

Into this they descended and touched the lunar surface for the last
time. A couple of hours' excursion among the houses proved that they had
been the last refuge of the last descendants of a dying race, a race
which had socially degenerated just as the succession of cities had done
architecturally, age by age, as the long-drawn struggle for mere
existence had become keener and keener until the two last essentials,
air and water, had failed--and then the end had come.

The streets, like the square of the great Temple of Tycho, were strewn
with myriads and myriads of bones, and there were myriads more scattered
round what had once been the shores of the dwindling lake. Here, as
elsewhere, there was not a sign or a record of any kind--carving or
sculpture. If there were any such on the surface of the moon they had
not discovered them. The buildings which they had seen evidently
belonged to the decadent period during which the dwindling remnants of
the Selenites asked only to eat and drink and breathe.

Inside the great Pyramid of the City of Tycho they might, perhaps, have
found something--some stone or tablet which bore the mark of the
artist's hand; elsewhere, perhaps, they might have found cities reared
by older races, which might have rivalled the creations of Egypt and
Babylon, but they had neither time nor inclination to look for these.

All that they had seen of the Dead World had only sickened and saddened
them. The untravelled regions of Space peopled by living worlds more
akin to their own were before them. The red disc of Mars was glowing in
the zenith among the diamond-white clusters which gemmed the black sky
behind him.

More than a hundred millions of miles had to be traversed before they
would be able to set foot on his surface, and so, after one last look
round the Valley of Death about them, Redgrave turned on the full energy
of the repulsive force in a vertical direction, and the _Astronef_ leapt
upwards in a straight line for her new destination. The Unknown
Hemisphere spread out in a vast plain beneath them, the blazing sun rose
on their left, and the brilliant silver orb of the earth on their right,
and so, full of wonder and yet without regret, they bade farewell to the
World that Had Been.



CHAPTER IX


The earth and the moon had been left more than a hundred million miles
behind in the depths of Space, and the _Astronef_ had crossed this
immense gap in eleven days and a few hours; but this apparently
inconceivable speed was not altogether due to the powers of the
Space-Navigator, for her commander had taken advantage of the passage of
the planet along its orbit towards that of the earth. Hence, while the
_Astronef_ was approaching Mars with ever-increasing speed, Mars was
travelling towards the _Astronef_ at the rate of sixteen miles a second.

The great silver disc of the earth had diminished until it looked only a
little larger than Venus appears to human eyes. In fact the planet Terra
is to the inhabitants of Mars what Venus is to us, the Star of the
Morning and the Evening.

Breakfast on the morning of the twelfth day--or, since there is neither
day nor night in Space, it would be more correct to say the twelfth
period of twenty-four earth-hours as measured by the chronometers--was
just over, and Redgrave was standing with Zaidie in the forward end of
the deck-chamber, looking downwards at a vast crescent of rosy light
which stretched out over an arc of more than ninety degrees. Two tiny
black spots were travelling towards each other across it.

"Ah," she said, going towards one of the telescopes, "there are the
moons. I was reading my Gulliver last night. I wonder what the old Dean
would have given to be here, and see how true his guess was. Are we
going to land on them?"

"I don't see why we shouldn't," he said. "I think we might find them
convenient stopping places; besides, you know this isn't only a
pleasure-trip. We have to add as much as we can to the sum of human
knowledge, and so of course we shall have to find out whether the moons
of Mars have atmospheres and inhabitants."

"What, people living on those wee things!" she laughed. "Why they're
only about thirty or forty miles round, aren't they?"

"About," he said, "but then that's just one of the points I want to
solve; and as for life, it doesn't always mean people, you know. We are
only a few hundred miles away from Deimos, the outer one, and he is
twelve thousand five hundred miles from Mars. I vote we drop on him
first and let him carry us towards Phobos. And then when we've examined
him we'll pay a visit to his brother and take a trip round Mars on him.
Phobos does the journey in about seven hours and a half, and as he's
only three thousand seven hundred miles above the surface, we ought to
get a very good view of our next stopping-place."

"That ought to be quite delightful," said Zaidie. "But how commonplace
you are getting, Lenox. That's so like you Englishmen. We are doing what
has only been dreamt of before, and here you are talking about moons and
planets as if they were railway stations."

"Well, if your Ladyship prefers it, we will call them undiscovered
islands and continents in the Ocean of Space. That does sound a little
bit better, doesn't it? Now I think I had better go down and see to my
engines."

When he had gone, Zaidie sat down to the telescope again and kept it
focussed on one of the little black spots travelling across the crescent
of Mars. Both it and the other spot rapidly grew larger, and the
features of the planet itself became more distinct. Soon even with her
unaided eyes she could make out the seas and continents and the
mysterious canals quite plainly through the clear, rosy atmosphere, and,
with the aid of the telescope, she could even see the glimmering
twilight which the inner moon threw upon the unlighted portion of the
planet's disc.

Deimos grew bigger and bigger, and in about half an hour the _Astronef_
grounded gently on what looked to Zaidie like a dimly lighted circular
plain, but which, when her eyes became accustomed to the light, was more
like the summit of a conical mountain. Redgrave raised the keel a little
from the surface again and steered towards a thin circle of light on the
tiny horizon.

As they crossed into the sunlit portion it became quite plain that
Deimos, at any rate, was as airless and lifeless as the moon. The
surface was composed of brown rock and red sand broken up into miniature
hills and valleys. There were a few traces of bygone volcanic action,
but it was evident that the internal fires of this tiny world must have
burnt themselves out very quickly.

"Not much to be seen here," said Redgrave, as he came up the
companion-way, "and I don't think it would be safe to go out. The
attraction is so weak here that we might find ourselves falling off with
very little exertion. Still, you may as well take a couple of
photographs of the surface, and then we'll be off to Phobos."

Zaidie got her apparatus to work, and when she had taken her slides down
to the dark-room, Redgrave turned the R. Force on very slightly and
Phobos began to sink away beneath them. The attraction of Mars now began
to make itself strongly felt, and the _Astronef_ dropped rapidly through
the eight thousand miles which separate the inner and outer satellites.

As they approached Phobos they saw that half the little disc was
brilliantly lighted by the same rays of the sun which were glowing on
the rapidly increasing crescent of Mars beneath them. By careful
manipulation of his engines Redgrave managed to meet the approaching
satellite with a hardly perceptible shock about the centre of its
lighted portion, that is to say the side turned towards the planet.

Mars now appeared as a gigantic rosy moon filling the whole vault of the
heavens above them. Their telescopes brought the three thousand seven
hundred and fifty miles down to about ten. The rapid motion of the tiny
satellite afforded them a spectacle which might be compared to the
rising of a moon glowing with rosy light and hundreds of times larger
than the earth. The speed of the vehicle of which they had taken
possession, something like four thousand two hundred miles an hour,
caused the surface of the planet to apparently sweep away from below
them, just as the earth seems to glide from under the car of a balloon.

Neither of them left the telescopes for more than a few minutes during
this aerial circumnavigation. Murgatroyd, outwardly impassive, but
inwardly filled with solemn fears for the fate of this impiously daring
voyage, brought them wine and sandwiches, and later on tea and toast and
more sandwiches; but they took no moment's heed of these, so absorbed
were they in the wonderful spectacle which was swiftly passing under
their eyes.

The main armament of the _Astronef_ consisted of four pneumatic guns,
which could be mounted on swivels, two ahead and two astern, which
carried a shell containing either one of two kinds of explosives
invented by her creator.

One of these was a solid, and burst on impact with an explosive force
equal to about twenty pounds of lyddite. The other consisted of two
liquids separated by a partition in the shell, and these, when mixed by
the breaking of the partition, burst into a volume of flame which could
not be extinguished by any known human means. It would burn even in a
vacuum, since it supplied its own elements of combustion. The guns would
throw these shells to a distance of about seven terrestrial miles. On
the upper deck there were also stands for a couple of light machine guns
capable of discharging seven hundred explosive bullets a minute.

Professor Rennick, although a man of peace, had little sympathy with the
laws of "civilised" warfare which permit men to be blown into rags of
flesh and splinters of bone by explosive shells of a pound weight and
upward, and only allow projectiles of less weight to be used against
"savages." There was no humbug about him. He believed that when war
_was_ necessary it had to _be_ war--and the sooner it was over the
better for everybody concerned.

The small arms consisted of a couple of heavy ten-bore elephant guns
carrying three-ounce melinite shells; a dozen rifles and fowling-pieces
of different makes of which three, a single and a double-barrelled rifle
and a double-barrelled shot-gun, belonged to her Ladyship, as well as a
dainty brace of revolvers, one of half a dozen braces of various
calibres which completed the minor armament of the _Astronef_.

The guns were got up and mounted while the attraction of the planet was
comparatively feeble, and the weapons themselves therefore of very
little weight. On the surface of the earth a score of men could not have
done the work, but on board the _Astronef_, suspended in Space, her crew
of three found the work easy. Zaidie herself picked up a Maxim and
carried it about as though it were a toy sewing-machine.

"Now I think we can go down," said Redgrave, when everything had been
put in position as far as possible. "I wonder whether we shall find the
atmosphere of Mars suitable for terrestrial lungs. It will be rather
awkward if it isn't."

A very slight exertion of repulsive force was sufficient to detach the
_Astronef_ from the body of Phobos. She dropped rapidly towards the
surface of the planet, and within three hours they saw the sunlight, for
the first time since they had left the earth, shining through an
unmistakable atmosphere, an atmosphere of a pale, rosy hue, instead of
the azure of the earthly skies. An angular observation showed that they
were within fifty miles of the surface of the undiscovered world.

"Well, we shall find air here of some sort, there's no doubt. We'll drop
a bit further and then Andrew shall start the propellers. They'll very
soon give us an idea of the density. Do you notice the change in the
temperature? That's the diffused rays instead of the direct ones. Twenty
miles! I think that will do. I'll stop her now and we'll prospect for a
landing place."

He went down to apply the repulsive force directly to the surface of
Mars, so as to check the descent, and then he put on his
breathing-dress, went into the exit-chamber, closed one door behind him,
opened the other and allowed it to fill with Martian air; then he shut
it again, opened his visor and took a cautious breath.

It may, perhaps, have been the idea that he, the first of all the sons
of Earth, was breathing the air of another world, or it might have been
some property peculiar to the Martian atmosphere, but he immediately
experienced a sensation such as usually follows the drinking of a glass
of champagne. He took another breath, and another, then he opened the
inner door and went back to the lower deck, saying to himself: "Well,
the air's all right if it is a bit champagney; rich in oxygen, I
suppose, with perhaps a trace of nitrous-oxide in it. Still, it's
certainly breathable, and that's the principal thing."

"It's all right, dear," he said as he reached the upper deck where
Zaidie was walking about round the sides of the glass dome gazing with
all her eyes at the strange scene of mingled cloud and sea and land
which spread for an immense distance on all sides of them. "I have
breathed the air of Mars, and even at this height it is distinctly
wholesome, though of course it's rather thin, and I had it mixed with
some of our own atmosphere. Still I think it will agree all right with
us lower down."

"Well, then," said Zaidie, "suppose we get below those clouds and see
what there really is to be seen."

"As there's a fairly big problem to be solved shortly I'll see to the
descent myself," he replied, going towards the stairway.

In a couple of minutes she saw the cloud-belt below them rising rapidly.
When Redgrave returned the _Astronef_ was plunging into a sea of rosy
mist.

"The clouds of Mars!" she exclaimed. "Fancy a world with pink clouds! I
wonder what there is on the other side."

The next moment they saw. Just below them at a distance of about five
earth-miles lay an irregularly triangular island, a detached portion of
the Continent of Huygens almost equally divided by the Martian Equator,
and lying with another almost similarly shaped island between the
fortieth and the fiftieth meridians of west longitude. The two islands
were divided by a broad, straight stretch of water about the width of
the English Channel between Folkestone and Boulogne. Instead of the
bright blue-green of terrestrial seas, this connecting link between the
great Northern and Southern Martian oceans had an orange tinge.

The land immediately beneath them was of a gently undulating character,
something like the Downs of South-Eastern England. No mountains were
visible in any direction. The lower portions, particularly along the
borders of the canals and the sea, were thickly dotted with towns and
cities, apparently of enormous extent. To the north of the Island
Continent there was a peninsula, which was covered with a vast
collection of buildings, which, with the broad streets and spacious
squares which divided them, must have covered an area of something like
two hundred square miles.

"There's the London of Mars!" said Redgrave, pointing down towards it;
"where the London of Earth will be in a few thousand years, close to the
Equator. And, you see, all those other towns and cities are crowded
round the canals! I daresay when we go across the northern and southern
temperate zones we shall find them in about the state that Siberia or
Antarctica are in."

"I daresay we shall," replied Zaidie; "Martian civilisation is crowding
towards the Equator, though I should call that place down there the
greater New York of Mars, and--see--there's Brooklyn just across the
canal. I wonder what they're thinking about us down there."

Phobos revolves from west to east almost along the plane of its
primary's equator. To left and right they saw the huge ice-caps of the
South and North Poles gleaming through the red atmosphere with a pale
sunset glimmer. Then came the great stretches of sea, often obscured by
vast banks of clouds, which, as the sunlight fell upon them, looked
strangely like earth-clouds at sunset.

Then, almost immediately underneath them, spread out the great land
areas of the equatorial region. The four continents of Halle, Galileo,
and Tycholand; then Huygens--which is to Mars what Europe, Asia, and
Africa are to the Earth, then Herschell and Copernicus. Nearly all of
these land masses were split up into semi-regular divisions by the
famous canals which have so long puzzled terrestrial observers.

"Well, there is one problem solved at any rate," said Redgrave, when,
after a journey of nearly four hours, they had crossed the western
hemisphere. "Mars is getting very old, her seas are diminishing, and her
continents are increasing. Those canals are the remains of gulfs and
straits which have been widened and deepened and lengthened by human, or
I should say Martian, labour, partly, I've no doubt, for purposes of
navigation and partly to keep the inhabitants of the interior of the
continents within measurable distance of the sea. There's not the
slightest doubt about that. Then, you see, there are scarcely any
mountains to speak of so far, only ranges of low hills."

"And that means, I suppose," said Zaidie, "that they've all been worn
down as the mountains of the earth are being. I was reading Flammarion's
'End of the World' last night, and he, you know, describes the earth at
the last as just one big plain of land, no hills or mountains, no seas,
and only sluggish rivers draining into marshes.

"I suppose that is what they're coming to down yonder. Now, I wonder
what sort of civilisation we shall find. Perhaps we shan't find any at
all. Suppose all their civilisations have worn out and they are
degenerating into the same struggle for sheer existence those poor
creatures in the moon must have had."

"Or suppose," said Redgrave rather seriously, "we find that they have
passed the zenith of civilisation, and are dropping back into savagery,
but still have the use of weapons and means of destruction which we,
perhaps, have no notion of, and are inclined to use them? We'd better be
careful, dear."

"What do you mean, Lenox?" she said. "They wouldn't try to do us any
harm, would they? Why should they?"

"I don't say they would," he replied; "but still you never know. You
see, their ideas of right and wrong and hospitality and all that sort of
thing may be quite different to what we have on the earth. In fact, they
may not be men at all, but just a sort of monster with perhaps a
superhuman intellect with all sorts of extra-human ideas in it.

"Then there's another thing," he went on. "Suppose they fancied a trip
through Space, and thought that they had as good a right to the
_Astronef_ as we have? I daresay they've seen us by this time if they've
got telescopes, as no doubt they have, perhaps a good deal more powerful
than ours, and they may be getting ready to receive us now. I think I'll
get the guns in place before we go down, in case their moral ideas, as
dear old Hans Breitmann called them, are not quite the same as ours."



CHAPTER X


The words were hardly out of his mouth before Zaidie, who still had her
glasses to her eyes, and was looking down towards the great city whose
glazed roofs were flashing with a thousand tints in the pale crimson
sunlight, said with a little tremor in her voice:

"Look, Lenox, down there--don't you see something coming up? That little
black thing. Just look how fast it's coming up; it's quite distinct
already. It's a sort of flying-ship, only it has wings and, I think,
masts too. Yes, I can see three masts, and there's something glittering
on the tops of them. I wonder if they're coming to pay us a polite
morning call, or whether they're going to treat us like trespassers in
their atmosphere."

"There's no telling, but those things on the top of the masts look like
revolving helices," replied Redgrave, after a long look through his
telescope. "He's screwing himself up into the air. That shows that they
must either have stronger and lighter machinery than we have, or, as the
astronomers have thought, this atmosphere is denser than ours, and
therefore easier to fly in. Then, of course, things are only half their
earthly weight here.

"Well, whether it's peace or war, I suppose we may as well let them come
and reconnoitre. Then we shall see what kind of creatures they are. Ah,
there are a lot more of them, some coming from Brooklyn, too, as you
call it. Come up into the conning-tower, and I'll relieve Murgatroyd, so
that he can go and look after his engines. We shall have to give these
gentlemen a lesson in flying. Meanwhile, in case of accidents, we may as
well make ourselves as invulnerable as possible."

A few minutes later they were in the conning-tower again, watching the
approach of the Martian fleet through the thick windows of toughened
glass which enabled them to look in every direction except straight
down. The steel coverings had been drawn down over the glass dome of the
deck-chamber, and Murgatroyd had gone down to the engine-room. Fifty
feet ahead of them stretched out the long, shining spur, of which ten
feet were solid steel, a ram which no floating structure built by human
hands could have resisted.

Redgrave was standing with his hand on the steering-wheel, looking more
serious than he had done so far during the voyage. Zaidie stood beside
him with a powerful binocular telescope watching, with cheeks a little
paler than usual, the movements of the Martian air-ships. She counted
twenty-five vessels rising round them in a wide circle.

"I don't like the idea of a whole fleet coming up," said Redgrave, as he
watched them rising, and the ring narrowing round the still motionless
_Astronef_. "If they only wanted to know who and what we are, or to
leave their cards on us, as it were, and bid us welcome to the world,
one ship could have done that just as well as a fleet. This lot coming
up looks as if they wanted to get round and capture us."

"It does look like it," said Zaidie, with her glasses fixed on the
nearest of the vessels; "and now I can see they've guns too, something
like ours, and perhaps, as you said just now, they may have explosives
that we don't know anything about. Oh, Lenox, suppose they were able to
smash us up with a single shot."

"You needn't be afraid of that, dear," he said, putting his arm round
her shoulders. "Of course it's perfectly natural that they should look
upon us with a certain amount of suspicion, dropping like this on them
from the stars. Can you see anything like men on board them yet?"

"No, they're all closed in just as we are," she replied; "but they've
got conning-towers like this, and something like windows along the
sides. That's where the guns are, and the guns are moving. They're
pointing them at us. Lenox, I'm afraid they're going to shoot."

"Then we may as well spoil their aim," he said, pressing one of the
buttons on the signal-board three times, and then once more after a
little interval.

In obedience to the signal Murgatroyd turned on the repulsive force to
half power, and the _Astronef_ leapt up vertically a couple of thousand
feet. Then Redgrave pressed the button once and she stopped. Another
signal set the propellers in motion, and as she sprang forward across
the circle formed by the Martian air-ships, they looked down and saw
that the place which they had just left was occupied by a thick
greenish-yellow cloud.

"Look, Lenox, what on earth is that?" exclaimed Zaidie, pointing down to
it.

"What on Mars would be nearer the point, dear," he said, with what she
thought a somewhat vicious laugh. "That, I'm afraid, means anything but
a friendly reception for us. That cloud is one of two things--it's the
smoke of the explosion of twenty or thirty shells, or else it's made of
gases intended to either poison us or make us insensible, so that they
can take possession of the ship. In either case I should say that the
Martians are not what we should call gentlemen."

"I should think not," she said angrily. "They might at least have taken
us for friends till they had proved us enemies, which they wouldn't have
done. Nice sort of hospitality that, considering how far we've come, and
we can't shoot back, because we haven't got the ports open."

"And a very good thing too!" laughed Redgrave; "if we had had them open,
and that volley had caught us unawares, the _Astronef_ would probably
have been full of poisonous gases by this time, and your honeymoon,
dear, would have come to a somewhat untimely end. Ah, they're trying to
follow us! Well, now we'll see how high they can fly."

He sent another signal to Murgatroyd, and the _Astronef_, still beating
the Martian air with the fans of her propellers, and travelling forward
at about fifty miles an hour, rose in a slanting direction through a
dense bank of rosy-tinted clouds, which hung over the bigger of the two
cities--New York, as Zaidie had named it.

When they reached the golden-red sunlight above it the _Astronef_
stopped her ascent, and then, with half a turn of the steering-wheel,
her commander sent her sweeping round in a wide circle. A few minutes
later they saw the Martian fleet rise almost simultaneously through the
clouds. They seemed to hesitate a moment, and then the prow of every
vessel was directed towards the swiftly moving _Astronef_.

"Well, gentlemen," said Redgrave, "you evidently don't know anything
about Professor Rennick and the R. Force; and yet you ought to know that
we couldn't have come through Space without being able to get beyond
this little atmosphere of yours. Now let us see how fast you can fly."

Another signal went down to Murgatroyd, the whirling propellers became
two intersecting circles of light. The speed of the _Astronef_ increased
to a hundred-and-fifty miles an hour, and the Martian fleet began to
drop behind and trail out into a triangle like a flock of huge birds.

"That's lovely; we're leaving them!" exclaimed Zaidie, leaning forward
with the glasses to her eyes and tapping the floor of the conning-tower
with her foot as if she wanted to dance, "and their wings are working
faster than ever. They don't seem to have any screws."

"Probably because they've solved the problem of bird's flight," said
Redgrave. "They're not gaining on us, are they?"

"No, they're at about the same distance."

"Then we'll see how they can soar."

Another signal went down the tube. The _Astronef's_ propellers slowed
down and stopped, and the vessel began to rise swiftly towards the
zenith, which the sun was now approaching. The Martian fleet continued
the impossible chase until the limits of the navigable atmosphere, about
eight earth-miles above the surface, was reached. Here the air was
evidently too rarefied for their wings to act upon. They came to a
standstill, looking like links of a broken chain, their occupants no
doubt looking up with envious eyes upon the shining body of the
_Astronef_ glittering like a tiny star in the sunlight ten thousand feet
above them.

"Well, gentlemen," said Redgrave, after a swift glance round, "I think
we have shown you that we can fly faster and soar higher than you can.
Perhaps you'll be a bit more civil now. If you're not we shall have to
teach you manners."

"But you're not going to fight them all, dear, are you? Don't let us be
the first to bring war and bloodshed with us into another world."

"Don't trouble about that, little woman, it's here already," he replied,
a trifle savagely. "People don't have air-ships and guns which fire
shells or poison-bombs, or whatever they were, without knowing what war
is. From what I've seen, I should say these Martians have civilised
themselves out of all emotions, and, I daresay, have fought pitilessly
for the possession of the last habitable lands of the planet.

"They've preyed upon each other till only the fittest are left, and
those, I suppose, were the ones who invented the air-ships and finally
got possession of all that was worth having. Of course that would give
them the command of the planet, land and sea. In fact, if we are able to
make the personal acquaintance of the Martians, we shall probably find
them a set of over-civilised savages."

"That's a rather striking paradox, isn't it, dear?" said Zaidie,
slipping her hand through his arm; "but still it's not at all bad. You
mean, of course, that they may have civilised themselves out of all the
emotions until they're just a set of cold, calculating, scientific
animals. After all they must be something of the sort, for I'm quite
sure we should not have done anything like that on earth if we'd had a
visitor from Mars. We shouldn't have got out cannons and shot at him
before we'd even made his acquaintance.

"Now, if he, or they, had dropped in America as we were going down
there, we should have received them with deputations, given them
banquets, which they might not have been able to eat, and speeches,
which they would not understand, and photographed them, and filled the
newspapers with everything that we could imagine about them, and then
put them in a palace car and hustled them round the country for
everybody to look at."

"And meanwhile," laughed Redgrave, "some of your smart engineers, I
suppose, would have gone over the vessel they had come in, found out how
she was worked, and taken out a dozen patents for her machinery."

"Very likely," replied Zaidie, with a saucy little toss of her chin;
"and why not? We like to learn things down there--and anyhow that would
be much more really civilised than shooting at them."

While this little conversation was going on, the _Astronef_ was dropping
rapidly into the midst of the Martian fleet, which had again arranged
itself in a circle. Zaidie soon made out through her glasses that the
guns were pointed upwards.

"Oh, that's your little game, is it!" said Redgrave, when she had told
him of this. "Well, if you want a fight, you can have it."

As he said this, his jaws came together, and Zaidie saw a look in his
eyes that she had never seen there before. He signalled rapidly two or
three times to Murgatroyd. The propellers began to whirl at their utmost
speed, and the _Astronef_, making a spiral downward course, swooped down
on to the Martian fleet with terrific velocity. Her last curve coincided
almost exactly with the circle occupied by the ships. Half-a-dozen
spouts of greenish flame came from the nearest vessel, and for a moment
the _Astronef_ was enveloped in a yellow mist.

"Evidently they don't know that we are air-tight, and they don't use
shot or shell. They've got past that. Their projectiles kill by poison
or suffocation. I daresay a volley like that would kill a regiment. Now
I'll give that fellow a lesson which he won't live to remember."

They swept through the poison-mist. Redgrave swung the wheel round. The
_Astronef_ dropped to the level of the ring of Martian vessels, which
had now got up speed again. Her steel ram was directed straight at the
vessel which had fired the last shot. Propelled at a speed of nearly two
hundred miles an hour, it took the strange-winged craft amidships. As
the shock came, Redgrave put his arm round Zaidie's waist and held her
close to him, otherwise she would have been flung against the forward
wall of the conning-tower.

[Illustration: _It took the strange-winged craft amidships._]

The Martian vessel stopped and bent up. They saw human figures more than
half as large again as men inside her staring at them through the
windows in the sides. There were others at the breaches of the guns in
the act of turning the muzzles on the _Astronef_; but this was only a
momentary glimpse, for in a second the _Astronef's_ spur had pierced
her, the Martian air-ship broke in twain, and her two halves plunged
downwards through the rosy clouds.

"Keep her at full speed, Andrew," said Redgrave down the speaking-tube,
"and stand by to jump if we want to."

"All ready, my Lord!" came back up the tube.

The old Yorkshireman during the last few minutes had undergone a
transformation which he himself hardly understood. He recognised that
there was a fight going on, that it was a case of "burn, sink and
destroy," and the thousand-year-old Berserker awoke in him just, as a
matter of fact, it had done in his lordship.

"They can pick up the pieces down there, what there is left of them,"
said Redgrave, still holding Zaidie tight to his side with one hand and
working the wheel with the other, "and now we'll teach them another
lesson."

"What are you going to do, dear?" she said, looking up at him with
somewhat frightened eyes.

"You'll see in a moment," he said, between his shut teeth. "I don't care
whether these Martians are degenerate human beings or only animals; but
from my point of view the reception they have given us justifies any
kind of retaliation. If we'd had a single port-hole open during the
first volley you and I would have been dead by this time, and I'm not
going to stand anything like that without reprisals. They've declared
war on us, and killing in war isn't murder."

"Well, no, I suppose not," she said; "but it's the first fight I've been
in, and I don't like it. Still, they did receive us pretty meanly,
didn't they?"

"Meanly? If there was anything like a code of interplanetary morals or
manners one might call it absolutely caddish. I don't believe even Stead
himself could stand that--unless, of course, he wasn't here."

He sent another message to Murgatroyd. The _Astronef_ sprang a thousand
feet towards the zenith; another touch on the button, and she stopped
exactly over the biggest of the Martian air-ships; another, and she
dropped on to it like a stone and smashed it to fragments. Then she
stopped and mounted again above the broken circle of the fleet, while
the pieces of the air-ship and what was left of her crew plunged
downwards through the crimson clouds in a fall of nearly thirty thousand
feet.

Within the next few moments the rest of the Martian fleet had followed
it, sinking rapidly down through the clouds and scattering in all
directions.

"They seem to have had enough of it," laughed Redgrave, as the
_Astronef_, in obedience to another signal, began to drop towards the
surface of Mars. "Now we'll go down and see if they're in a more
reasonable frame of mind. At any rate we've won our first scrimmage,
dear."

"But it was rather brutal, Lenox, wasn't it?"

"When you are dealing with brutes, little woman, it is sometimes
necessary to be brutal."

"And you look a wee bit brutal right now," she replied, looking up at
him with something like a look of fear in her eyes. "I suppose that is
because you have just killed somebody--or somethings--whichever they
are."

"Do I, really?"

The hard-set jaw relaxed and his lips melted into a smile under his
moustache, and he bent down and kissed her.

"Well, what do you suppose I should have thought of them if _you_ had
had a whiff of that poison?"

"Yes, dear," she whispered in between the kisses, "I see now."



CHAPTER XI


The _Astronef_ dropped swiftly down through the crimson-tinged clouds,
and a few minutes later they saw that the rest of the fleet had
scattered in units in all directions, apparently with the intention of
getting as far as possible out of reach of that terrible ram. Only one
of them, the largest, which carried what looked like a flag of woven
gold at the top of its centre mast, remained in sight after a few
minutes. It was almost immediately below them when they had passed
through the clouds, and they could see it sinking straight down towards
the centre of what appeared to be the principal square of the bigger of
the two cities which Zaidie had named New York and Brooklyn.

"That fellow has gone to report, evidently," said Redgrave. "We'll
follow him just to see what he's up to, but I don't think we'd better
open the ports even then. There's no telling when they might give us a
whiff of that poison-mist, or whatever it is."

"But how are you going to talk to them, then, if they can talk?--I mean,
if they know any language that we do?"

"They're something like men, and so I suppose they understand the
language of signs, at any rate. Still, if you don't fancy it, we'll go
somewhere else."

"No, thanks," she said. "That's not my father's daughter. I haven't come
a hundred million miles from home to go away before the first act's
finished. We'll go down to see if we can make them understand."

By this time the _Astronef_ was hanging suspended over an enormous
square about half the size of Hyde Park. It was laid out just as a
terrestrial park would be, in grass land, flower-beds, and avenues, and
patches of trees, only the grass was a reddish yellow, the leaves of the
trees were like those of a beech in autumn, and the flowers were nearly
all a deep violet, or a bright emerald green.

As they descended they saw that the square, or Central Park, as Zaidie
at once christened it, was flanked by enormous blocks of buildings,
palaces built of a dazzlingly white stone, and topped by domed roofs and
lofty cupolas of glass.

"Isn't that just lovely!" she said, swinging her binoculars in every
direction. "Talk about your Park Lane and the houses round Central Park;
why, it's the Chicago Exposition, and the Paris one, and your Crystal
Palace, multiplied by about ten thousand, and all spread out just round
this one place. If we don't find these people nice, I guess we'd better
go back and build a fleet like this, and come and take it."

"There spoke the new American imperialism," laughed Redgrave. "Well,
we'll go and see what they're like first, shall we?"

The _Astronef_ dropped a little more slowly than the air-ship had done,
and remained suspended a hundred feet or so above her after she had
reached the ground. Swarms of human figures but of more than human
stature, clad in tunics and trousers or knickerbockers, came out of the
glass-domed palaces from all sides into the park. They were nearly all
of the same stature, and there appeared to be no difference whatever
between the sexes. Their dress was absolutely plain; there was no
attempt at ornament or decoration of any kind.

"If there are any of the Martian women among those people," said her
ladyship, "they've taken to rationals, and they've grown about as big as
the men."

"That's exactly what's happening on earth, you know, dear. I don't mean
about the rationals, but the women growing up, especially in America. I
come of a pretty long family----but, look!"

"Well, I only come to your ear," she said.

"And our descendants of ten thousand years hence----"

"Oh, don't bother about them!" she said. "Look; there's some one who
seems to want to communicate with us. Why, they're all bald! They
haven't got a hair among them--and what a size their heads are!"

"That's brains--too much brains, in fact. These people have lived too
long. I daresay they've ceased to be animals--civilised themselves out
of everything in the way of passions and emotions, and are just purely
intellectual beings, with as much human nature about them as Russian
diplomacy or those things we saw at the bottom of the Newton Crater. I
don't like the look of them."

The orderly swarms of figures, which were rapidly filling the park,
divided as he was speaking, making a broad lane from one of its
entrances to where the _Astronef_ was hanging above the air-ship. A
light four-wheeled vehicle, whose framework and wheels glittered like
burnished gold, sped towards them, driven by some invisible agency.

Its only occupant was a huge man, dressed in the universal costume,
saving only a scarlet sash in place of the cord-girdle which the others
wore round their waists. The vehicle stopped near the air-ship, over
which the _Astronef_ was hanging, and, as the figure dismounted, a door
opened in the side of the vessel and three other figures, similar both
in stature and attire, came out and entered into conversation with him.

"The Admiral of the Fleet is evidently making his report," said
Redgrave. "Meanwhile, the crowd seems to be taking a considerable amount
of interest in us."

"And very naturally, too!" replied Zaidie. "Don't you think we might go
down now and see if we can make ourselves understood in any way? You can
have the guns ready in case of accidents, but I don't think they'll try
and hurt us now. Look, the gentleman with the red sash is making signs."

"I think we can go down now all right," replied Redgrave, "because it's
quite certain they can't use the poison-guns on us without killing
themselves as well. Still, we may as well have our own ready. Andrew,
get that port Maxim ready. I hope we shan't want it, but we may. I don't
quite like the look of these people."

"They're very ugly, aren't they?" said Zaidie; "and really you can't
tell which are men and which are women. I suppose they've civilised
themselves out of everything that's nice, and are just scientific and
utilitarian and everything that's horrid."

"I shouldn't wonder. They look to me as if they've just got common
sense, as we call it, and hadn't any other sense; but, at any rate, if
they don't behave themselves, we shall be able to teach them manners of
a sort, though we may possibly have done that to some extent already."

As he said this Redgrave went into the conning-tower, and the _Astronef_
moved from above the air-ship, and dropped gently into the crimson grass
about a hundred feet from her. Then the ports were opened, the guns,
which Murgatroyd had loaded, were swung into position, and they armed
themselves with a brace of revolvers each, in case of accident.

"What delicious air this is!" said her ladyship, as the ports were
opened and she took her first breath of the Martian atmosphere. "It's
ever so much nicer than ours. Oh, Lenox, it's just like breathing
champagne."

Redgrave looked at her with an admiration which was tempered by a sudden
apprehension. Even in his eyes she had never seemed so lovely before.
Her cheeks were glowing and her eyes were gleaming with a brightness
that was almost feverish, and he was himself sensible of a strange
feeling of exultation, both mental and physical, as his lungs filled
with the Martian air.

"Oxygen," he said, shortly, "and too much of it! Or I shouldn't wonder
if it was something like nitrous-oxide--you know, laughing gas."

"Don't!" she laughed; "it may be very nice to breathe, but it reminds
one of other things which aren't a bit nice. Still, if it is anything of
that sort it might account for these people having lived so fast. I know
I feel just now as if I was living at the rate of thirty-six hours a
day, and so, I suppose, the fewer hours we stop here the better."

"Exactly!" said Redgrave, with another glance of apprehension at her.
"Now, there's his Royal Highness, or whatever he is, coming. How are we
going to talk to him? Are you all ready, Andrew?"

"Yes, my Lord, all ready," replied the old Yorkshireman, dropping his
huge, hairy hand on the breech of the Maxim.

"Very well, then, shoot the moment you see them doing anything
suspicious, and don't let any one except his Royal Highness come nearer
than a hundred yards."

As he said this Redgrave went to the door, from which the gangway steps
had been lowered, and, in reply to a singularly expressive gesture from
the huge Martian, who seemed to stand nearly nine feet high, he beckoned
to him to come up on to the deck.

As he mounted the steps the crowd closed round the _Astronef_ and the
Martian air-ship; but, as though in obedience to orders which had
already been given, they kept at a respectful distance of a little over
a hundred yards away from the strange vessel which had wrought such
havoc with their fleet. When the Martian reached the deck, Redgrave held
out his hand and the giant recoiled, as a man on earth might have done
if, instead of the open palm, he had seen a clenched hand gripping a
knife.

"Take care, Lenox," exclaimed Zaidie, taking a couple of steps towards
him, with her right hand on the butt of one of her revolvers. The
movement brought her close to the open door, and in full view of the
crowd outside.

If a seraph had come on earth and presented itself thus before a throng
of human beings, there might have happened some such miracle as was
wrought when the swarm of Martians beheld the strange beauty of this
radiant daughter of the earth.

As it seemed to the space-voyagers, when they discussed it afterwards,
ages of purely utilitarian civilisation had brought all conditions of
Martian life up--or down--to the same level. There was no apparent
difference between the males and females in stature; their faces were
all the same, with features of mathematical regularity, pale skin,
bloodless cheeks, and an expression, if such it could be called, utterly
devoid of emotion.

But still these creatures were human, or at least their forefathers had
been. Hearts beat in their breasts, blood of a sort still flowed through
their veins, and so the magic of this marvellous vision instantly awoke
the long-slumbering elementary instincts of a bygone age. A low murmur
ran through the vast throng, a murmur half-human, half-brutish, which
swiftly rose to a hoarse screaming roar.

"Look out, my Lord! Quick! Shut the door, they're coming! It's her
ladyship they want; she must look like an angel from Heaven to them.
Shall I fire?"

"Yes," said Redgrave, gripping the lever, and bringing the door down.
"Zaidie, if this fellow moves put a bullet through him. I'm going to
talk to that air-ship before he gets his poison-guns to work."

As the last word left his lips Murgatroyd put his thumb on the spring on
the Maxim. A roar such as Martian ears had never heard before resounded
through the vast square, and was flung back with a thousand echoes from
the walls of the huge palaces on every side. A stream of smoke and flame
poured out of the little port-hole, and then the onward-swarming throng
seemed to stop, and the front ranks of it began to sink down silently in
long rows.

Then through the roaring rattle of the Maxim sounded the deep, sharp
bang of Redgrave's gun, as he sent ten pounds weight of Rennickite, as
he had christened it, into the Martian air-ship. There was the roar of
an explosion which shook the air for miles around. A blaze of greenish
flame and a huge cloud of steamy smoke showed that the projectile had
done its work, and, when the smoke drifted away, the spot on which the
air-ship had lain was only a deep, red, jagged gash in the ground. There
was not even a fragment of the ship to be seen.

This done, Redgrave went and turned the starboard Maxim on to another
swarm which was approaching the _Astronef_ from that side. When he had
got the range he swung the gun slowly from side to side. The moving
throng stopped, as the other one had done, and sank down to the red
grass, now dyed with a deeper red.

Meanwhile, Zaidie had been holding the Martian at something more than
arm's length with her revolver. He seemed to understand perfectly that,
if she pulled the trigger, the revolver would do something like what the
Maxims had done. He appeared to take no notice whatever either of the
destruction of the air-ship or of the slaughter that was going on around
the _Astronef_. His big, pale blue eyes were fixed upon her face. They
seemed to be devouring a loveliness such as they had never seen before.
A dim, pinky flush stole for the first time into his waxy cheeks, and
something like a light of human passion came into his eyes.

Then, to the utter astonishment of both Redgrave and Zaidie, he said
slowly and deliberately, and with only just enough tinge of emotion in
his voice to make Redgrave want to shoot him:

"Beautiful. Perfect. More perfect than ours. I want it. Give Palace and
Garden of Eternal Summer for it. Two thousand work-slaves and fifty----"

"And I'll see you damned first, sir, whoever you are!" said Redgrave,
clapping his hand on to the butt of his revolver, and forgetting for the
moment that he was speaking in another world than his own. "What the
devil do you mean, sir, by insulting my wife----?"

"Insulting. Wife. What is that? We have no words like those."

"But you speak English," exclaimed Zaidie, going a little nearer to him,
but still keeping the muzzle of her revolver pointing up to his hairless
head. "No, Lenox, don't be afraid about me, and don't get angry. Can't
you see that this person hasn't got any temper? I suppose it was
civilised out of his ancestors ages ago. He doesn't know what a wife or
an insult is. He just looks upon me as a desirable piece of property to
be bought, and I daresay he offered you a very handsome price. Now,
don't look so savage, because you know bargains like that have been made
even on our dear old virtuous Mother Earth. For instance, if you hadn't
met us in the middle of the Atlantic----"

"That'll do, Zaidie," Redgrave interrupted almost roughly. "That's not
exactly the question, but I see what you mean, and it was a bit silly of
me to get angry."

"Silly? Angry? What do those words mean?" said the Martian in his slow,
passionless, mechanical voice. "Who are you? Whence come you?"

"I'll answer the last part first," said Redgrave. "We come from the
earth, the planet which you see after sunset and before sunrise."

"Yes, the Silver Star," said the Martian without any note of wonder or
surprise in his voice. "Are all the dwellers there like the gods and
angels our children read about in the old legends?"

"Gods and angels!" laughed Zaidie. "There, Lenox, there's a compliment
for you. I really think we ought to be as civil to his Royal Highness
after that as possible." Then she went on, addressing the Martian, "No,
we are not all gods and angels on earth. There are no gods and very few
angels. In fact there are none except those which exist in the fancy of
certain prejudiced persons. But that doesn't matter, at least not just
now," she continued with American directness. "What we want to know just
now is, why you speak English, and what sort of a world this Mars is?"

The Martian evidently only understood the most direct essentials of her
speech. He saw that she asked two questions, and he answered them.

"Speak English?" he replied, with a little shake of his huge head. "We
know not English, but there is no other speech. There is only ours.
Cycles ago there were other speeches here, but those who spoke them were
killed. It was inconvenient. One speech for a world is best."

"I see what he means," said Redgrave, looking towards Zaidie. "The
Martian people have developed along practically the same lines as we are
doing, but they have done it faster and got a long way ahead of us. We
are finding out that the speech we call English is the shortest and most
convenient. The Martians found it out long ago and killed everybody who
spoke anything else. After all, what we call speech is only the
translation of thoughts into sounds. These people have been thinking for
ages with the same sort of brains as ours, and they've translated their
thoughts into the same sounds. What we call English they, I daresay,
call Martian, and that's all there is in it that I can see."

"Of course," laughed Zaidie. "Wonderful until you know how, eh? Like
most things. Still I must say that our friend here speaks English
something like a phonograph, and if he'll excuse me saying so, which of
course he will, he doesn't seem to have much more human nature about
him."

"I'm not quite so sure on that point," said Redgrave, "but----"

"Oh, never mind about that now!" she interrupted, and then, turning
towards the Martian, who had been listening intently as though he was
trying to make sense out of what they had been saying, she went on
speaking slowly and very plainly----

"Tell me, sir, if you please, do you know what 'angry' means? Are you
not angry with us for destroying your air-ships up there in the clouds,
and the one that came down, and for shooting all those people of yours?"

The Martian looked at her with a little light in his big blue eyes, and
two faint little spots of red just under them, and said:

"Anger! Yes, I remember, that is what we called brain-heat. Our teachers
found it to be madness and it was abolished. It was not convenient. The
air-ships were not convenient to you, so you abolished them. The folk,
too, that you abolished with those things," pointing to the guns, "they
were not convenient. If you hadn't done that they would have abolished
you. There is no more to say."

"What brutes," said Zaidie, turning away from him, her head thrown back
and her lips curling in unutterable disgust. "Well, if these people have
civilised themselves along the same lines that we are doing, thinking
the same things and speaking something like the same speech, thank God
we shall be dead before our civilisation reaches a stage like this.
That's not a man. It's only a machine of flesh and bone and nerves, and
I suppose it has blood of some sort."

A beautiful woman always looks most beautiful when she is just a little
angry. Redgrave had never seen Zaidie look quite so lovely as she did
just then. The Martian, whose ancestors had for generations forgotten
what human emotion was like, only saw in her anger a miracle which made
her a thousand times more beautiful than before, and as he looked upon
her glowing cheeks and gleaming eyes some instinct insensibly
transmitted through many generations awoke to sudden life in some unused
corner of his brain.

His pale clear eyes lit up with something like a glow of human passion.
The pink spots under his eyes spread downwards over his cheeks. Some
half-articulate sounds came from between his thin lips. Then they were
drawn back and showed his smooth, toothless gums. He took a couple of
long, swift strides towards her, and then bent forward, towering over
her with long, outstretched arms, huge, hideous, and half-human.

Zaidie sprang backwards as he came towards her, her right hand went up,
and, just as Redgrave levelled his revolver, and Murgatroyd, true to the
old Berserk instinct, took a rifle by the barrel and swung the stock
above his head, Zaidie pulled her trigger. The bullet cut a clean hole
through the smooth, hairless skull of the Martian. A dark, red spot came
just between his eyes, his huge frame shrank together and collapsed in a
heap on the deck.

"Oh, I've killed him! God forgive me, killed a man!" she whispered, as
her hand fell to her side, and the revolver dropped from her fingers.
"But, Lenox, do you really think it was a man?"

"That thing a man!" he replied between his clenched teeth. "He wanted
you, and spoke English of a sort, so there was something human about
him, but anyhow he's better dead. Here, Andrew, open that door again and
help me to heave this thing overboard. Then I think we'd better be off
before we have the rest of the fleet with their poison guns round us.
Zaidie, I think you'd better go to your room for the present. Take a nip
of cognac and then lie down, and mind you keep the door tight shut.
There's no telling what these animals might do if they had a chance, and
just now it's my business and Andrew's to see that they don't."

Though she would much rather have remained on deck to see anything more
that might happen, she saw that he was really in earnest, and so like a
wise wife who commands by obeying, she obeyed, and went below.

Then the dead body of the Martian was tumbled out of the side door. The
windows through which the guns had been fired were hermetically closed,
and a few minutes later the _Astronef_ vanished from the surface of
Mars, to remain a memory and a marvel to the dwindling generations of
the worn-out world which is as this may be in the far-off days that are
to come.



CHAPTER XII


"How very different Venus looks now to what it does from the earth,"
said Zaidie, a couple of mornings later, by earth-time, as she took her
eye away from the telescope through which she had been examining an
enormous golden crescent which spanned the dark vault of Space ahead of
and slightly below the _Astronef_.

"Yes," replied Redgrave, "she looks----"

"How do you know that she is a she?" said Zaidie, getting up and laying
a hand on his shoulder as he sat at his own telescope. "Of course I know
what you mean, that according to our own ideas on earth, it is the
planet or the world which has been supposed for ages to, as it were,
shine upon the lovers of earth with the light reflected from
the--the--well, I suppose you know what I mean."

"Seeing that you are the most perfect terrestrial incarnation of the
said goddess that I have seen yet," he replied, slipping his arm round
her waist and pulling her down on to his knees, "I don't think that that
is quite the view you ought to take. Surely if Venus ever had a
daughter----"

"Oh, nonsense! After we've travelled all these millions of miles
together do you really expect me to believe stuff like that?"

"My dear girl-graduate," he said, tightening his grip round her waist a
little, "you know perfectly well that if we had travelled beyond the
limits of the Solar System, if we had outsailed old Halley's Comet
itself, and dived into the uttermost depths of Space outside the Milky
Way, you and I would still be a man and a woman, and, being, as may be
presumed, more or less in love with each other----"

"Less indeed!" said Zaidie; "you're speaking for yourself, I hope."

And then when she had partially disengaged herself and sat up straight,
she said between her laughs----

"Really, Lenox, you're quite absurd for a person who has been married as
long as you have, I don't mean in time, but in Space. Was it a thousand
years or a couple of hundred million miles ago that we were married?
Really I am getting my ideas of time and space quite mixed up.

"But never mind that! What I was going to say is that, according to all
the authorities which your girl-graduate has been reading since we left
Mars, Venus--oh, doesn't she look just gorgeous, and our old friend the
Sun behind there blazing out of darkness like one of the furnaces at
Pittsburg--I beg your pardon, Lenox, I'm afraid I'm getting quite
provincial. I suppose we're considerably more than a hundred million
miles away?"

"Yes, dear; we're about a hundred and fifty millions, and at that
distance, if you'll excuse me saying so, even the United States would
seem almost like a province, wouldn't they?"

"Well, yes; that's just where distance doesn't lend enchantment to the
view, I suppose."

"But what was it you were going to say before that----"

"The interlude, eh? Well, before the interlude you were accusing me of
being a graduate as well as a girl. Of course I can't help that, but
what I was going to say was----"

"If you are going to talk science, dear, perhaps we'd better sit on
different chairs. I may have been married for a hundred and fifty
million miles, but the honeymoon isn't half way through yet, you know."

Then there was another interlude of a few seconds' duration. When Zaidie
was seated beside her own telescope again, she said, after another
glance at the splendid crescent which, as the _Astronef_ approached at a
speed of over forty miles a second, increased in size and distinctness
every moment:

"What I mean is this. All the authorities are agreed that on Venus, her
axis of revolution being so very much inclined to the plane of her
orbit, the seasons are so severe that half the year its temperate zone
and its tropics have a summer about twice as hot as ours and the other
half they have a winter twice as cold as our coldest. I'm afraid, after
all, we shall find the Love-Star a world of salamanders and seals;
things that can live in a furnace and bask on an iceberg; and when we
get back home it will be our painful duty, as the first explorers of the
fields of Space, to dispel another dearly-cherished popular delusion."

"I'm not so very sure about that," said Lenox, glancing from the rapidly
growing crescent, to the sweet, smiling face beside him. "Don't you see
something very different there to what we saw either on the Moon or
Mars? Now just go back to your telescope and let us take an
observation."

"Well," said Zaidie, rising, "as our trip is, partly at least, in the
interests of science, I will;" and then when she had got her own
telescope into focus again--for the distance between the _Astronef_ and
the new world they were about to visit was rapidly lessening--she took a
long look through it, and said:

"Yes, I think I see what you mean. The outer edge of the crescent is
bright, but it gets greyer and dimmer towards the inside of the curve.
Of course Venus has an atmosphere. So had Mars; but this must be very
dense. There's a sort of halo all round it. Just fancy that splendid
thing being the little black spot we saw going across the face of the
Sun a few days ago! It makes one feel rather small, doesn't it?"

"That is one of the things which a woman says when she doesn't want to
be answered; but, apart from that, you were saying----"

"What a very unpleasant person you can be when you like! I was going to
say that on the Moon we saw nothing but black and white, light and
darkness. There was no atmosphere, except in those awful places I don't
want to think about. Then, as we got near Mars, we saw a pinky
atmosphere, but not very dense; but this, you see, is a sort of
pearl-grey white shading from silver to black. You notice how much paler
it grows as we get nearer. But look--what are those tiny bright spots?
There are hundreds of them."

"Do you remember as we were leaving the Earth, how bright the mountain
ranges looked; how plainly we could see the Rockies and the Andes?"

"Oh, yes, I see; they're mountains; thirty-seven miles high, some of
them, they say; and the rest of the silver-grey will be clouds, I
suppose. Fancy living under clouds like those."

"Only another case of the adaptation of life to natural conditions, I
expect. When we get there I daresay we shall find that these clouds are
just what make it possible for the inhabitants of Venus to stand the
extremes of heat and cold. Given elevations three or four times as high
as the Himalayas, it would be quite possible for them to choose their
temperature by shifting their altitude.

"But I think it's about time to drop theory and see to the practice," he
continued, getting up from his chair and going to the signal board in
the conning-tower. "Whatever the planet Venus may be like, we don't want
to charge it at the rate of sixty miles a second. That's about the speed
now, considering how fast she's travelling towards us."

"And considering that, whether it is a nice world or not it's nearly as
big as the Earth, I guess we should get rather the worst of the charge,"
laughed Zaidie as she went back to her telescope.

Redgrave sent a signal down to Murgatroyd to reverse engines, as it
were, or, in other words, to direct the "R. Force" against the planet,
from which they were now only a couple of hundred thousand miles
distant. The next moment the sun and stars seemed to halt in their
courses. The great golden-grey crescent, which had been increasing in
size every moment, appeared to remain stationary, and then, when he was
satisfied that the engines were developing the Force properly, he sent
another signal down, and the _Astronef_ began to descend.

The half-disc of Venus seemed to fall below them, and in a few minutes
they could see it from the upper deck spreading out like a huge
semi-circular plain of light ahead and on both sides of them. The
_Astronef_ was falling at the rate of about a thousand miles a minute
towards the centre of the half-crescent, and every moment the brilliant
spots above the cloud-surface grew in size and brightness.

"I believe the theory about the enormous height of the mountains of
Venus must be correct after all," said Redgrave, tearing himself with an
evident wrench away from his telescope. "Those white patches can't be
anything else but the summits of snow-capped mountains. You know how
brilliantly white a snow-peak looks on earth against the whitest of
clouds."

"Oh, yes," said Zaidie, "I've often seen that in the Rockies. But it's
lunch-time, and I must go down and see how my things in the kitchen are
getting on. I suppose you'll try and land somewhere where it's morning,
so that we can have a good day before us. Really, it's very convenient
to be able to make your own morning or night as you like, isn't it? I
hope it won't make us too conceited when we get back, being able to
choose our mornings and our evenings; in fact, our sunrises and sunsets
on any world we like to visit in a casual way like this."

"Well," laughed Redgrave, as she moved away towards the companion
stairs, "after all, if you find the United States, or even the Planet
Terra, too small for you, we've always got the fields of Space open to
us. We might take a trip across the Zodiac or down the Milky Way."

"And meanwhile," she replied, stopping at the top of the stairs and
looking round, "I'll go down and get lunch. You and I may be king and
queen of the realms of Space, and all that sort of thing, but we've got
to eat and drink, after all."

"And that reminds me," said Redgrave, getting up and following her, "we
must celebrate our arrival on a new world as usual. I'll go down and get
out the wine. I shouldn't be surprised if we found the people of the
Love-World living on nectar and ambrosia, and as fizz is our nearest
approach to nectar----"

"I suppose," said Zaidie, as she gathered up her skirts and stepped
daintily down the companion stairs, "if you find anything human, or at
least human enough to eat and drink, you'll have a party and give them
champagne. I wonder what those wretches on Mars would have thought of it
if we'd only made friends with them?"

Lunch on board the _Astronef_ was about the pleasantest meal of the day.
Of course, there was neither day nor night, in the ordinary sense of the
word, except as the hours were measured off by the chronometers.
Whichever side or end of the vessel received the direct rays of the sun,
was bathed in blazing heat and dazzling light. Elsewhere there was black
darkness and the more than icy cold of Space; but lunch was a convenient
division of the waking hours, which began with a stroll on the upper
deck and a view of the ever-varying splendours about them, and ended
after dinner in the same place with coffee and cigarettes and
speculations as to the next day's happenings.

This lunch-hour passed even more pleasantly and rapidly than others had
done, for the discussion as to the possibilities of Venus was continued
in a quite delightful mixture of scientific disquisition and that
converse which is common to most human beings on their honeymoon.

As there was nothing more to be done or seen for an hour or two, the
afternoon was spent in a pleasant siesta in the luxurious deck-saloon;
because evening to them would be morning on that portion of Venus to
which they were directing their course, and, as Zaidie said, when she
subsided into her hammock:

It would be breakfast-time before they could get dinner.

As the _Astronef_ fell with ever-increasing velocity towards the
cloud-covered surface of Venus, the remainder of her disc, lit up by the
radiance of her sister-worlds, Mercury, Mars, and the Earth, and also by
the pale radiance of an enormous comet, which had suddenly shot into
view from behind its southern limb, became more or less visible.

Towards six o'clock it became necessary to exert nearly the whole
strength of her engines to check the velocity of her fall. By eight she
had entered the atmosphere of Venus, and was dropping slowly towards a
vast sea of sunlit cloud, out of which, on all sides, towered thousands
of snow-clad peaks, rounded summits, and widespread stretches of upland
about which the clouds swept and surged like the silent billows of some
vast ocean in Ghostland.

"I thought so!" said Redgrave, when the propellers had begun to revolve
and Murgatroyd had taken his place in the conning-tower. "A very dense
atmosphere loaded with clouds. There's the Sun just rising, so your
ladyship's wishes are duly obeyed."

"And doesn't it seem nice and homelike to see him rising through an
atmosphere above the clouds again? It doesn't look a bit like the same
sort of dear old Sun just blazing like a red-hot Moon among a lot of
white-hot stars and planets. Look, aren't those peaks lovely, and that
cloud-sea?--why, for all the world we might be in a balloon above the
Rockies or the Alps. And see," she continued, pointing to one of the
thermometers fixed outside the glass dome which covered the upper deck,
"it's only sixty-five even here. I wonder if we can breathe this air,
and--oh--I do wonder what we shall see on the other side of those
clouds."

"You shall have both questions answered in a few minutes," replied
Redgrave, going towards the conning-tower. "To begin with, I think we'll
land on that big snow-dome yonder, and do a little exploring. Where
there are snow and clouds there is moisture, and where there is moisture
a man ought to be able to breathe."

[Illustration: _Snow peaks and cloud seas._]

The _Astronef_, still falling, but now easily under the command of the
helmsman, shot forwards and downwards towards a vast dome of snow which,
rising some two thousand feet above the cloud-sea, shone with dazzling
brilliance in the light of the rising Sun. She landed just above the
edge of the clouds. Meanwhile they had put on their breathing-suits, and
Redgrave had seen that the air chamber through which they had to pass
from their own little world into the new ones that they visited was in
working order. When the outer door was opened and the ladder lowered he
stood aside, as he had done on the Moon, and Zaidie's was the first
human foot which made an imprint on the virgin snows of Venus.

The first thing Redgrave did was to raise the visor of his helmet and
taste the air of the new world. It was cool, and fresh, and sweet, and
the first draught of it sent the blood tingling and dancing through his
veins. Perfect as the arrangements of the _Astronef_ were in this
respect, the air of Venus tasted like clear running spring water would
have done to a man who had been drinking filtered water for several
days. He threw the visor right up and motioned to Zaidie to do the same.
She obeyed, and, after drawing a long breath, she said:

"That's glorious! It's like wine after water, and rather stagnant water
too. But what a world, snow-peaks and cloud-seas, islands of ice and
snow in an ocean of mist! Just look at them! Did you ever see anything
so lovely and unearthly in your life? I wonder how high this mountain
is, and what there is on the other side of the clouds. Isn't the air
delicious! Not a bit too cold after all--but, still, I think we may as
well go back and put on something more becoming. I shouldn't quite like
the ladies of Venus to see me dressed like a diver."

"Come along, then," laughed Lenox, as he turned back towards the vessel.
"That's just like a woman. You're about a hundred and fifty million
miles away from Broadway or Regent Street. You are standing on the top
of a snow mountain above the clouds of Venus, and the moment that you
find the air is fit to breathe you begin thinking about dress. How do
you know that the inhabitants of Venus, if there are any, dress at all?"

"What nonsense! Of course they do--at least, if they are anything like
us."

As soon as they got back on board the _Astronef_ and had taken their
breathing-dresses off, Redgrave and the old engineer, who appeared to
take no visible interest in their new surroundings, threw open all the
sliding doors on the upper and lower decks so that the vessel might be
thoroughly ventilated by the fresh sweet air. Then a gentle repulsion
was applied to the huge snow mass on which the _Astronef_ rested. She
rose a couple of hundred feet, her propellers began to whirl round, and
Redgrave steered her out towards the centre of the vast cloud-sea which
was almost surrounded by a thousand glittering peaks of ice and domes of
snow.

"I think we may as well put off dinner, or breakfast as it will be now,
until we see what the world below is like," he said to Zaidie, who was
standing beside him on the conning-tower.

"Oh, never mind about eating just now, this is altogether too wonderful
to be missed for the sake of ordinary meat and drink. Let's go down and
see what there is on the other side."

He sent a message down the speaking tube to Murgatroyd, who was below
among his beloved engines, and the next moment sun and clouds and
ice-peaks had disappeared and nothing was visible save the
all-enveloping silver-grey mist.

For several minutes they remained silent, watching and wondering what
they would find beneath the veil which hid the surface of Venus from
their view. Then the mist thinned out and broke up into patches which
drifted past them as they descended on their downward slanting course.

Below them they saw vast, ghostly shapes of mountains and valleys, lakes
and rivers, continents, islands, and seas. Every moment these became
more and more distinct, and soon they were in full view of the most
marvellous landscape that human eyes had ever beheld. The distances were
tremendous. Mountains, compared with which the Alps or even the Andes
would have seemed mere hillocks, towered up out of the vast depths
beneath them.

Up to the lower edge of the all-covering cloud-sea they were clad with a
golden-yellow vegetation, fields and forests, open, smiling valleys, and
deep, dark ravines through which a thousand torrents thundered down from
the eternal snows beyond, to spread themselves out in rivers and lakes
in the valleys and plains which lay many thousands of feet below.

"What a lovely world!" said Zaidie, as she at last found her voice after
what was almost a stupor of speechless wonder and admiration. "And the
light! Did you ever see anything like it? It's neither moonlight nor
sunlight. See, there are no shadows down there, it's just all lovely
silvery twilight. Lenox, if Venus is as nice as she looks from here I
don't think I shall want to go back. It reminds me of Tennyson's Lotus
Eaters, 'the Land where it is always afternoon.'

"I think you are right after all. We are thirty million miles nearer to
the Sun than we were on the Earth, and the light and heat have to filter
through those clouds. They are not at all like Earth clouds from this
side. It's the other way about. The silver lining is on this side. Look,
there isn't a black or a brown one, or even a grey one, within sight.
They are just like a thin mist, lighted by a million of electric lamps.
It's a delicious world, and if it isn't inhabited by angels it ought to
be."



CHAPTER XIII


While Zaidie was talking the _Astronef_ was sweeping swiftly down
towards the surface of Venus, through scenery of whose almost
inconceivable magnificence no human words could convey any adequate
idea. Underneath the cloud-veil the air was absolutely clear and
transparent, clearer, indeed, than terrestrial air at the highest
elevations reached by mountain-climbers, and, moreover, it seemed to be
endowed with a strange, luminous quality, which made objects, no matter
how distant, stand out with almost startling distinctness.

The rivers and lakes and seas which spread out beneath them, seemed
never to have been ruffled by blast of storm or breath of wind, and
their surfaces shone with a soft, silvery light, which seemed to come
from below rather than from above.

"If this isn't heaven it must be the half-way house," said Redgrave,
with what was, perhaps, under the circumstances, a pardonable
irreverence. "Still, after all, we don't know what the inhabitants may
be like, so I think we'd better close the doors, and drop on the top of
that mountain-spur running out between the two rivers into the bay. Do
you notice how curious the water looks after the Earth seas; bright
silver, instead of blue and green?"

"Oh, it's just lovely," said Zaidie. "Let's go down and have a walk.
There's nothing to be afraid of. You'll never make me believe that a
world like this can be inhabited by anything dangerous."

"Perhaps, but we mustn't forget what happened on Mars, _Madonna mia_.
Still, there's one thing, we haven't been tackled by any aerial fleets
yet."

"I don't think the people here want air-ships. They can fly themselves.
Look! there are a lot of them coming to meet us. That was a rather
wicked remark of yours, Lenox, about the half-way house to heaven; but
those certainly do look something like angels."

As Zaidie said this, after a somewhat lengthy pause, during which the
_Astronef_ had descended to within a few hundred feet of the
mountain-spur, she handed her field-glasses to her husband, and pointed
downwards towards an island which lay a couple or miles or so off the
end of the spur.

He put the glasses to his eyes, and took a long look through them.
Moving them slowly up and down, and from side to side, he saw hundreds
of winged figures rising from the island and floating towards them.

"You were right, dear," he said, without taking the glass from his eyes,
"and so was I. If those aren't angels, they're certainly something like
men, and, I suppose, women too who can fly. We may as well stop here and
wait for them. I wonder what sort of an animal they take the _Astronef_
for."

He sent a message down the tube to Murgatroyd and gave a turn and a half
to the steering-wheel. The propellers slowed down and the _Astronef_
dropped with a hardly-perceptible shock in the midst of a little plateau
covered with a thick, soft moss of a pale yellowish green, and fringed
by a belt of trees which seemed to be over three hundred feet high, and
whose foliage was a deep golden bronze.

They had scarcely landed before the flying figures reappeared over the
tree tops and swept downwards in long spiral curves towards the
_Astronef_.

"If they're not angels, they're very like them," said Zaidie, putting
down her glasses.

"There's one thing, they fly a lot better than the old masters' angels
or Doré's could have done, because they have tails--or at least
something that seems to serve the same purpose, and yet they haven't got
feathers."

"Yes, they have, at least round the edges of their wings or whatever
they are, and they've got clothes, too, silk tunics or something of that
sort--and there are men and women."

"You're quite right, those fringes down their legs are feathers, and
that's how they can fly. They seem to have four arms."

The flying figures which came hovering near to the _Astronef_, without
evincing any apparent sign of fear, were the strangest that human eyes
had looked upon. In some respects they had a sufficient resemblance for
them to be taken for winged men and women, while in another they bore a
decided resemblance to birds. Their bodies and limbs were human in
shape, but of slenderer and lighter build; and from the shoulder-blades
and muscles of the back there sprang a second pair of arms arching up
above their heads. Between these and the lower arms, and continued from
them down the side to the ankles, there appeared to be a flexible
membrane covered with a light feathery down, pure white on the inside,
but on the back a brilliant golden yellow, deepening to bronze towards
the edges, round which ran a deep feathery fringe.

The body was covered in front and down the back between the wings with a
sort of divided tunic of a light, silken-looking material, which must
have been clothing, since there were many different colours all more or
less of different hue among them. Below this and attached to the inner
sides of the leg from the knee downward, was another membrane which
reached down to the heels, and it was this which Redgrave somewhat
flippantly alluded to as a tail. Its obvious purpose was to maintain the
longitudinal balance when flying.

In stature the inhabitants of the Love-Star varied from about five feet
six to five feet, but both the taller and the shorter of them were all
of nearly the same size, from which it was easy to conclude that this
difference in stature was on Venus as well as on the Earth, one of the
broad distinctions between the sexes.

They flew round the _Astronef_ with an exquisite ease and grace which
made Zaidie exclaim:

"Now, why weren't we made like that on Earth?"

To which Redgrave, after a look at the barometer, replied:

"Partly, I suppose, because we weren't built that way, and partly
because we don't live in an atmosphere about two and a half times as
dense as ours."

Then several of the winged figures alighted on the mossy covering of the
plain and walked towards the vessel.

"Why, they walk just like us, only much more prettily!" said Zaidie.
"And look what funny little faces they've got! Half bird, half human,
and soft, downy feathers instead of hair. I wonder whether they talk or
sing. I wish you'd open the doors again, Lenox. I'm sure they can't
possibly mean us any harm; they are far too pretty for that. What lovely
soft eyes they have, and what a thousand pities it is we shan't be able
to understand them."

They had left the conning-tower, and both his lordship and Murgatroyd
were throwing open the sliding-doors and, to Zaidie's considerable
displeasure, getting the deck Maxims ready for action in case they
should be required. As soon as the doors were open Zaidie's judgment of
the inhabitants of Venus was entirely justified.

Without the slightest sign of fear, but with very evident astonishment
in their round golden-yellow eyes, they came walking close up to the
sides of the _Astronef_. Some of them stroked her smooth, shining sides
with their little hands, which Zaidie now found had only three fingers
and a thumb. Many ages before they might have been birds' claws, but now
they were soft and pink and plump, utterly strange to manual work as it
is understood upon Earth.

"Just fancy getting Maxim guns ready to shoot those delightful things,"
said Zaidie, almost indignantly, as she went towards the doorway from
which the gangway ladder ran down to the soft, mossy turf. "Why, not one
of them has got a weapon of any sort; and just listen," she went on,
stopping in the opening of the doorway, "have you ever heard music like
that on Earth? I haven't. I suppose it's the way they talk. I'd give a
good deal to be able to understand them. But still, it's very lovely,
isn't it?"

"Ay, like the voices of syrens," said Murgatroyd, speaking for the first
time since the _Astronef_ had landed; for this big, grizzled, taciturn
Yorkshireman, who looked upon the whole cruise through Space as a mad
and almost impious adventure, which nothing but his hereditary loyalty
to his master's name and family could have persuaded him to share in,
had grown more and more silent as the millions of miles between the
_Astronef_ and his native Yorkshire village had multiplied day by day.

"Syrens--and why not, Andrew?" laughed Redgrave. "At any rate, I don't
think they look likely to lure us and the _Astronef_ to destruction."
Then he went on: "Yes, Zaidie, I never heard anything like that before.
Unearthly, of course it is, but then we're not on Earth. Now, Zaidie,
they seem to talk in song-language. You did pretty well on Mars with
your American, suppose we go out and show them that you can speak the
song-language, too."

"What do you mean?" she said; "sing them something?"

"Yes," he replied; "they'll try to talk to you in song, and you won't be
able to understand them; at least, not as far as words and sentences go.
But music is the universal language on Earth, and there's no reason why
it shouldn't be the same through the Solar System. Come along, tune up,
little woman!"

They went together down the gangway stairs, he dressed in an ordinary
suit of grey, English tweed, with a golf cap on the back of his head,
and she in the last and daintiest of the costumes which the art of Paris
and London and New York had produced before the _Astronef_ soared up
from far-off Washington.

The moment that she set foot on the golden-yellow sward she was
surrounded by a swarm of the winged, and yet strangely human creatures.
Those nearest to her came and touched her hands and face, and stroked
the folds of her dress. Others looked into her violet-blue eyes, and
others put out their queer little hands and stroked her hair.

This and her clothing seemed to be the most wonderful experience for
them, saving always the fact that she had only two arms and no wings.
Redgrave kept close beside her until he was satisfied that these
exquisite inhabitants of the new-found fairyland were innocent of any
intention of harm, and when he saw two of the winged daughters of the
Love-Star put up their hands and touch the thick coils of her hair, he
said:

"Take those pins and things out and let it down. They seem to think that
your hair's part of your head. It's the first chance you've had to work
a miracle, so you may as well do it. Show them the most beautiful thing
they've ever seen."

"What babies you men can be when you get sentimental!" laughed Zaidie,
as she put her hands up to her head. "How do you know that this may not
be ugly in their eyes?"

"Quite impossible!" he replied. "They're a great deal too pretty
themselves to think _you_ ugly. Let it down!"

While he was speaking Zaidie had taken off a Spanish mantilla which she
had thrown over her head as she came out, and which the ladies of Venus
seemed to think was part of her hair. Then she took out the comb and one
or two hairpins which kept the coils in position, deftly caught the
ends, and then, after a few rapid movements of her fingers, she shook
her head, and the wondering crowd about her saw, what seemed to them a
shimmering veil, half gold, half silver, in the soft reflected light
from the cloud-veil, fall down from her head over her shoulders.

They crowded still more closely round her, but so quietly and so gently
that she felt nothing more than the touch of wondering hands on her
arms, and dress, and hair. As Redgrave said afterwards, he was
"absolutely out of it." They seemed to imagine him to be a kind of
uncouth monster, possibly the slave of this radiant being which had come
so strangely from somewhere beyond the cloud-veil. They looked at him
with their golden-yellow eyes wide open, and some of them came up rather
timidly and touched his clothes, which they seemed to think were his
skin.

Then one or two, more daring, put their little hands up to his face and
touched his moustache, and all of them, while both examinations were
going on, kept up a running conversation of cooing and singing which
evidently conveyed their ideas from one to the other on the subject of
this most marvellous visit of these two strange beings with neither
wings nor feathers, but who, most undoubtedly, had other means of
flying, since it was quite certain that they had come from another
world.

Their ordinary speech was a low crooning note, like the language in
which doves converse, mingled with a twittering current of undertone.
But every moment it rose into higher notes, evidently expressing wonder
or admiration, or both.

"You were right about the universal language," said Redgrave, when he
had submitted to the stroking process for a few moments. "These people
talk in music, and, as far as I can see or hear, their opinion of us,
or, at least, of you, is distinctly flattering. I don't know what they
take _me_ for, and I don't care, but as we'd better make friends with
them suppose you sing them 'Home, Sweet Home,' or the 'Swanee River.' I
shouldn't wonder if they consider our talking voices most horrible
discords, so you might as well give them something different."

While he was speaking the sounds about them suddenly hushed, and, as
Redgrave said afterwards, it was something like the silence that follows
a cannon shot. Then, in the midst of the hush, Zaidie put her hands
behind her, looked up towards the luminous silver surface which formed
the only visible sky of Venus, and began to sing "The Swanee River."

The clear, sweet notes rang up through the midst of a sudden silence.
The sons and daughters of the Love-Star instantly ceased their own soft
musical conversation, and Zaidie sang the old plantation song through
for the first time that a human voice had sung it to ears other than
human.

As the last note thrilled sweetly from her lips she looked round at the
crowd of queer half-human shapes about her, and something in their
unlikeness to her own kind brought back to her mind the familiar scenes
which lay so far away, so many millions of miles across the dark and
silent Ocean of Space.

Other winged figures, attracted by the sound of her singing, had crossed
the trees, and these, during the silence which came after the singing of
the song, were swiftly followed by others, until there were nearly a
thousand of them gathered about the side of the _Astronef_.

There was no crowding or jostling among them. Each one treated every
other with the most perfect gentleness and courtesy. No such thing as
enmity or ill-feeling seemed to exist among them, and, in perfect
silence, they waited for Zaidie to continue what they thought was her
long speech of greeting. The temper of the throng somehow coincided
exactly with the mood which her own memories had brought to her, and the
next moment she sent the first line of "Home, Sweet Home" soaring up to
the cloud-veiled sky.

As the notes rang up into the still, soft air a deeper hush fell on the
listening throng. Heads were bowed with a gesture almost of adoration,
and many of those standing nearest to her bent their bodies forward, and
expanded their wings, bringing them together over their breasts with a
motion which, as they afterwards learnt, was intended to convey the idea
of wonder and admiration, mingled with something like a sentiment of
worship.

Zaidie sang the sweet old song through from end to end, forgetting for
the time being everything but the home she had left behind her on the
banks of the Hudson. As the last notes left her lips, she turned round
to Redgrave and looked at him with eyes dim with the first tears that
had filled them since her father's death, and said, as he caught hold of
her outstretched hand:

"I believe they've understood every word of it."

"Or, at any rate, every note. You may be quite certain of that," he
replied. "If you had done that on Mars it might have been even more
effective than the Maxims."

"For goodness sake don't talk about things like that in a heaven like
this! Oh, listen! They've got the tune already!"

It was true! The dwellers of the Love-Star, whose speech was song, had
instantly recognised the sweetness of the sweetest of all earthly songs.
They had, of course, no idea of the meaning of the words; but the music
spoke to them and told them that this fair visitant from another world
could speak the same speech as theirs. Every note and cadence was
repeated with absolute fidelity, and so the speech, common to the two
far-distant worlds, became a link connecting this wandering son and
daughter of the Earth with the sons and daughters of the Love-Star.

The throng fell back a little and two figures, apparently male and
female, came to Zaidie and held out their right hands and began
addressing her in perfectly harmonised song, which, though utterly
unintelligible to her in the sense of speech, expressed sentiments which
could not possibly be mistaken, as there was a faint suggestion of the
old English song running through the little song-speech that they made,
and both Zaidie and her husband rightly concluded that it was intended
to convey a welcome to the strangers from beyond the cloud-veil.

And then the strangest of all possible conversations began. Redgrave,
who had no more notion of music than a walrus, perforce kept silence. In
fact, he noticed with a certain displeasure which vanished speedily with
a musical, and half-malicious little laugh from Zaidie, that when he
spoke the Bird-Folk drew back a little and looked in something like
astonishment at him; but Zaidie was already in touch with them, and half
by song and half by signs she very soon gave them an idea of what they
were and where they had come from. Her husband afterwards told her that
it was the best piece of operatic acting he had ever seen, and,
considering all the circumstances, this was very possibly true.

In the end the two who had come to give her what seemed to be the formal
greeting, were invited into the _Astronef_. They went on board without
the slightest sign of mistrust and with only an expression of mild
wonder on their beautiful and strangely childlike faces.

Then, while the other doors were being closed, Zaidie stood at the open
one above the gangway and made signs showing that they were going up
beyond the clouds and then down into the valley, and as she made the
signs she sang through the scale, her voice rising and falling in
harmony with her gestures. The Bird-Folk understood her instantly, and
as the door closed and the _Astronef_ rose from the ground, a thousand
wings were outspread and presently hundreds of beautiful soaring forms
were circling about the Navigator of the Stars.

"Don't they look lovely!" said Zaidie. "I wonder what they would think
if they could see us flying above New York or London or Paris with an
escort like this. I suppose they're going to show us the way. Perhaps
they have a city down there. Suppose you were to go and get a bottle of
champagne and see if Master Cupid and Miss Venus would like a drink.
We'll see then if our nectar is anything like theirs."

Redgrave went below. Meanwhile, for lack of other possible conversation,
Zaidie began to sing the last verse of "Never Again." The melody almost
exactly described the upward motion of the _Astronef_, and she could see
that it was instantly understood, for when she had finished their two
voices joined in an almost exact imitation of it.

When Redgrave brought up the wine and the glasses they looked at them
without any sign of surprise. The pop of the cork did not even make them
look round.

"Evidently a semi-angelic people, living on nectar and ambrosia, with
nectar very like our own," he said, as he filled the glasses. "Perhaps
you'd better give it to them. They seem to understand you better than
they do me--you being, of course, a good bit nearer to the angels than I
am."

"Thanks!" she said, as she took a couple of glasses up, wondering a
little what their visitors would do with them. Somewhat to her surprise,
they took them with a little bow and a smile and sipped at the wine,
first with a swift glint of wonder in their eyes, and then with smiles
which are unmistakable evidence of perfect appreciation.

"I thought so," said Redgrave, as he raised his own glass, and bowed
gravely towards them. "This is our nearest approach to nectar, and they
seem to recognise it."

"And don't they just look like the sort of people who live on it, and,
of course, other things?" added Zaidie, as she too lifted her glass, and
looked with laughing eyes across the brim at her two guests.

But meanwhile Murgatroyd had been applying the repulsive force a little
too strongly. The _Astronef_ shot up with a rapidity which soon left her
winged escort far below. She entered the cloud-veil and passed beyond
it. The instant that the unclouded sun-rays struck the glass-roofing of
the deck-chamber their two guests, who had been moving about examining
everything with a childlike curiosity, closed their eyes and clasped
their hands over them, uttering little cries, tuneful and musical, but
still with a note of strange discord in them.

"Lenox, we must go down again," exclaimed Zaidie. "Don't you see they
can't stand the light; it hurts them. Perhaps, poor dears, it's the
first time they've ever been hurt in their lives. I don't believe they
have any of our ideas of pain or sorrow or anything of that sort. Take
us back under the clouds--quick, or we may blind them."

Before she had ceased speaking, Redgrave had sent a signal down to
Murgatroyd, and the _Astronef_ began to drop back again towards the
surface of the cloud-sea. Zaidie had, meanwhile, gone to her lady guest
and dropped the black lace mantilla over her head, and, as she did so,
she caught herself saying:

"There, dear, we shall soon be back in your own light. I hope it hasn't
hurt you. It was very stupid of us to do a thing like that."

The answer came in a little cooing murmur, which said, "Thank you!"
quite as effectively as any earthly words could have done, and then the
_Astronef_ passed through the cloud-sea. The soaring forms of her lost
escort came into view again and clustered about her; and, surrounded by
them, she dropped, in obedience to their signs, down between the
tremendous mountains and towards the island, thick with golden foliage,
which lay two or three Earth-miles out in a bay, where four converging
rivers spread out through a vast estuary into the sea.

As Lady Redgrave said afterwards to Mrs. Van Stuyler, she could have
filled a whole volume with a description of the exquisitely arcadian
delights with which the hours of the next ten days and nights were
filled. Possibly if she had been able to do justice to them, even her
account might have been received with qualified credence; but still some
idea of them may be gathered from this extract of a conversation which
took place in the saloon of the _Astronef_ on the eleventh evening.

"But look here, Zaidie," said Redgrave, "as we've found a world which is
certainly much more delightful than our own, why shouldn't we stop here
a bit? The air suits us and the people are simply enchanting. I think
they like us, and I'm sure you're in love with every one of them, male
and female. Of course, it's rather a pity that we can't fly unless we do
it in the _Astronef_. But that's only a detail. You're enjoying yourself
thoroughly, and I never saw you looking better or, if possible, more
beautiful; and why on Earth--or Venus--do you want to go?"

She looked at him steadily for a few moments, and with an expression
which he had never seen on her face or in her eyes before, and then she
said slowly and very sweetly, although there was something like a note
of solemnity running through her tone:

"I altogether agree with you, dear; but there is something which you
don't seem to have noticed. As you say, we have had a perfectly
delightful time. It's a delicious world, and just everything that one
would think it to be; but if we were to stop here we should be
committing one of the greatest of crimes, perhaps the greatest, that
ever was committed within the limits of the Solar System."

"My dear Zaidie, what, in the name of what we used to call morals on the
Earth, _do_ you mean?"

"Just this," she replied, leaning a little towards him in her
deck-chair. "These people, half angels, and half men and women, welcomed
us after we dropped through their cloud-veil, as friends; we were a
little strange to them, certainly, but still they welcomed us as
friends. They had no suspicions of us; they didn't try to poison us or
blow us up as those wretches on Mars did. They're just like a lot of
grown-up children with wings on. In fact they're about as nearly angels
as anything we can think of. They've taken us into their palaces,
they've given us, as one might say, the whole planet. Everything was
ours that we liked to take. You know we have two or three hundredweight
of precious stones on board now, which they would make me take just
because they saw my rings.

"We've been living with them ten days now, and neither you nor I, nor
even Murgatroyd, who, like the old Puritan that he is, seems to see sin
or wrong in everything that looks nice, has seen a single sign among
them that they know anything about what we call sin or wrong on Earth.
There's no jealousy, no selfishness. In short, no envy, hatred, malice,
and all uncharitableness; no vice, or meanness, or cheating, or any of
the abominations of the planet Terra, and _we come from that planet_. Do
you see what I mean now?"

"I think I understand what you're driving at," said Redgrave; "you mean,
I suppose, that this world is something like Eden before the fall, and
that you and I--oh--but that's all rubbish you know. I've got my own
share of original sin, of course, but here it doesn't seem to come in;
and as for you, the very idea of _you_ imagining yourself a feminine
edition of the Serpent in Eden. Nonsense!"

She got up out of her chair and, leaning over his, put her arm round his
shoulder. Then she said very softly:

"I see you understand what I mean, Lenox. That's just it--original sin.
It doesn't matter how good you think me or I think you, but we have it.
You're an Earth-born man and I'm an Earth-born woman, and, as I'm your
wife, I can say it plainly. We may think a good bit of each other, but
that's no reason why we might not be a couple of plague-spots in a
sinless world like this. Surely you see what I mean, I needn't put it
plainer, need I?"

Their eyes met, and he read her meaning in hers. He put his arm up over
her shoulder and drew her down towards him. Their lips met, and then he
got up and went down to the engine-room.

A couple of minutes later the _Astronef_ sprang upwards from the midst
of the delightful valley in which she was resting. No lights were shown.
In five minutes she had passed through the cloud-veil, and the next
morning when their new friends came to visit them and found that they
had vanished back into Space, there was sorrow for the first time among
the sons and daughters of the Love-Star.



CHAPTER XIV


"Five hundred million miles from the Earth, and forty-seven million
miles from Jupiter," said Redgrave as he came into breakfast on the
morning of the twenty-eighth day after leaving Venus.

During this brief period the _Astronef_ had recrossed the orbits of the
Earth and Mars and had passed through that marvellous region of the
Solar System, the Belt of the Asteroides. Nearly a hundred million miles
of their journey had lain through this zone in which hundreds and
possibly thousands of tiny planets revolve in vast orbits round the Sun.

Then had come a world less void of over three hundred million miles,
through which they voyaged alone, surrounded by the ever-constant
splendours of the heavens, and visited only now and then by one of those
Spectres of Space, which we call comets.

Astern the disc of the Sun steadily diminished and ahead the grey-blue
shape of Jupiter, the Giant of the Solar System, had grown larger and
larger until now they could see it as it had never been seen before--a
gigantic three-quarter moon filling up the whole heavens in front of
them almost from zenith to nadir. Three of its satellites, Europa,
Ganymede, and Calisto, were distinctly visible even to the naked eye,
and Europa and Ganymede, happened to be in such a position in regard to
the _Astronef_ that her crew could see not only the bright sides turned
towards the Sun, but also the black shadow-spots which they cast on the
cloud-veiled face of the huge planet. Calisto was above the horizon
hanging like a tiny flicker of yellowish-red light above the rounded
edge of Jupiter, and Io was invisible behind the planet.

"Five hundred million miles!" said Zaidie, with a little shiver; "that
seems an awful long way from home--I mean America--doesn't it? I often
wonder what they are thinking about us on the dear old Earth. I don't
suppose any one ever expects to see us again. However, it's no good
getting homesick in the middle of a journey when you're outward bound.
And now what is the programme as regards His Majesty King Jove? We shall
visit the satellites of course?"

"Certainly," replied Redgrave; "in fact, I shouldn't be surprised if our
visit was confined to them."

"What! do you mean to say we shan't land on Jupiter after coming nearly
six hundred million miles to see him? That would be disappointing. But
why not? don't you think he's ready to be visited yet?"

"I can't say that, but you must remember that no one has the remotest
notion of what there is behind the clouds or whatever they are which
form those bands. All we really know about Jupiter is that he is of
enormous size, for instance, he's over twelve hundred times bigger than
the Earth and that his density isn't much greater than that of
water--and my humble opinion is that if we're able to go through the
clouds without getting the _Astronef_ red-hot we shall find that Jupiter
is in the same state as the Earth was a good many million years ago."

"I see," said Zaidie, "you mean just a mass of blazing, boiling rock and
metal which will make islands and continents some day; and that what we
call the cloud-bands are the vapours which will one day make its seas.
Well, if we can get through these clouds we ought to see something worth
seeing. Just fancy a whole world as big as that all ablaze like molten
iron! Do you think we shall be able to see it, Lenox?"

"I'm not so sure about that, little woman. We shall have to go to work
rather cautiously. You see Jupiter is far bigger than any world we've
visited yet, and if we got too close to him the _Astronef's_ engines
might not be powerful enough to drive us away again. Then we should
either stop there till the R. Force was exhausted or be drawn towards
him and perhaps drop into an ocean of molten rock and metal."

"Thanks!" said Zaidie, with a shrug of her shapely shoulders. "That
_would_ be an ignominious end to a journey like this, to say nothing of
the boiling oil part of it; so I suppose you'll make stopping-places of
the satellites and use their attraction to help you to resist His
Majesty's."

"Your Ladyship's reasoning is perfect. I propose to visit them in turn,
beginning with Calisto. I shouldn't be at all surprised if we found
something interesting on them. You know they're quite little worlds of
themselves. They're all bigger than our moon, except Europa. Ganymede,
in fact, is two-thirds bigger than Mercury, and if old Jupiter is still
in a state of fiery incandescence there's no reason why we shouldn't
find on Ganymede or one of the others the same state of things that
existed on our moon when the Earth was blazing hot."

"I shouldn't wonder," said Zaidie; "I've often heard my father say that
that was probably what happened. It's all very marvellous, isn't it?
death in one place, life in another, all beginnings and endings, and yet
no actual beginning or end of anything anywhere. That's eternity, I
suppose."

"It's just about as near as the finite intellect can get to it, I should
say," replied Redgrave. "But I don't think metaphysics are much in our
line. If you've finished we may as well go and have a look at the
realities."

"Which the metaphysicians," laughed Zaidie as she rose, "would tell you
are not realities at all, or only realities so far as you can think
about them. 'Thinks,' in short, instead of real things. But meanwhile
I've got the breakfast _things_ to put away, so you can go up on deck
and put the telescopes in order."

When she joined him a few minutes later in the deck-chamber the
three-quarter disc of Jupiter was rapidly approaching the full.

Its phases are invisible from the Earth owing to the enormous distance;
but from the deck of the _Astronef_ they had been plainly visible for
some days, and, since the huge planet turns on its axis in less than ten
hours, or with more than twice the speed of the Earth's rotation, the
phases followed each other very rapidly.

Thus at twelve o'clock noon by _Astronef_ time they might have seen a
gigantic rim of silver-blue overarching the whole vault of heaven in
front of them. By five o'clock it would be a hemisphere, and by five
minutes to ten the vast sphere would be once more shining full-orbed
upon them. By eight o'clock next morning they would find Jupiter "new"
again.

They were now falling very rapidly towards the huge planet, and, since
there is no up or down in Space, the nearer they got to it the more it
appeared to sink below them and become, as it were, the floor of the
Celestial Sphere. As the crescent approached the full they were able to
examine the mysterious bands as human observers had never examined them
before. For hours they sat almost silent at their telescopes, trying to
probe the mystery which has baffled human science since the days of
Galileo, and gradually it became plain that Redgrave was correct in the
hypothesis which he had derived from Flammarion and one or two others of
the more advanced astronomers.

"I believe I was right, or, in other words, those that I got the idea
from are," he said, as they approached the orbit of Calisto, which
revolves at a distance of about eleven hundred thousand miles from the
surface of Jupiter.

"Those belts are made of clouds or vapour in some stage or other. The
highest--the ones along the Equator and what we should call the
Temperate Zones--are the highest, and therefore coolest and whitest. The
dark ones are the lowest and hottest. I daresay they are more like what
we should call volcanic clouds. Do you see how they keep changing?
That's what's bothered our astronomers. Look at that big one yonder a
bit to the north, going from brown to red. I suppose that's something
like the famous red spot which they have been puzzling about. What do
you make of it?"

"Well," said Zaidie, looking up from her telescope, "it's quite certain
that the glare must come from underneath. It can't be sunlight, because
the poor old Sun doesn't seem to have strength enough to make a decent
sunset or sunrise here, and look how it's running along to the westward!
What does that mean, do you think?"

"I should say it means that some half-formed Jovian Continent has been
flung sky high by a big burst-up underneath, and that's the blaze of the
incandescent stuff running along. Just fancy a continent, say ten times
the size of Asia, being split up and sent flying in a few moments like
that. Look! there's another one to the north! On the whole, dear, I
don't think we should find the climate on the other side of those clouds
very salubrious. Still, as they say the atmosphere of Jupiter is about
ten thousand miles thick, we may be able to get near enough to see
something of what's going on.

"Meanwhile, here comes Calisto. Look at his shadow flying across the
clouds. And there's Ganymede coming up after him, and Europa behind him.
Talk about eclipses! they must be about as common here as thunderstorms
are with us."

"We don't have a thunderstorm every day--at least not at home,"
corrected Zaidie, "but on Jupiter they must have two or three eclipses
every day. Meanwhile, there goes Jupiter himself. What a difference
distance makes! This little thing is only a trifle larger than our Moon,
and it's hiding everything else."

As she was speaking the full-orbed disc of Calisto, measuring nearly
three thousand miles across, swept between them and the planet. It shone
with a clear, somewhat reddish light like that of Mars. The _Astronef_
was feeling his attraction strongly, and Redgrave went to the levers and
turned on about a fifth of the R. Force to avoid too sudden contact with
it.

"Another dead world!" said Redgrave, as the surface of Calisto revolved
swiftly beneath them, "or at any rate a dying one. There must be an
atmosphere of some sort, or else that snow and ice wouldn't be there,
and everything would be either black or white as it was on the Moon. We
may as well land, however, and get a specimen of the rocks and soil to
add to the museum, though I don't expect there will be very much to see
in the way of life."

In another hour or so the _Astronef_ had dropped gently on to the
surface of Calisto at the foot of a range of mountains crowded with
jagged and splintery peaks, and a mile or two from the edge of a sea of
snow and ice which stretched away in a vast expanse of rugged frozen
billows beyond the horizon. Redgrave, as usual, went into the
air-chamber and tried the atmosphere. A second's experience of it was
enough for him. It was unbreathably thin and unbearably cold, although,
when mixed with the air of the _Astronef_, it distinctly freshened it
up. This proved that its composition was, or had been, fit for human
respiration.

"There's only one fault about it," he said, when he rejoined Zaidie in
the sitting-room. "You know what the schoolboy said when he started
kissing his first sweetheart, 'It takes too long to get enough of it.'"

"You seem to be very fond of referring to that particular subject,
Lenox."

"Well, yes; to tell you the truth I am," and then he referred to it
again in another form.

After this they went and put on their breathing-dresses and went for a
welcome stroll along the arid shores of the frozen sea after their
lengthy confinement to the decks of the _Astronef_. The Sun was still
powerful enough to keep them comfortably warm in their dresses, and
there was enough atmosphere to make this warmth diffused instead of
direct. So they were able to step out briskly, and every now and then
open their visors a little and take in a breath or two of the thin,
sharp air, which they found quite exhilarating when mixed with the air
supplied by their own oxygen apparatus.

The attraction of the satellite being only a little more than that of
the Moon--or, say, about a fifth of that of the Earth--they were able to
get along with a series of hops, skips, and jumps which might have
looked rather ridiculous to terrestrial eyes, but which they found a
very pleasant mode of locomotion. They were also able to climb the
steepest mountainsides with no more trouble than they would have had in
walking along a terrestrial plain.

On the heights they found no sign either of animal or vegetable
life--only rocks and gravel and sand of a brownish red, apparently
uniform in composition. They took a few lumps of rock and a canvas bag
full of sand back with them from the mountain-side. In the valley
sloping towards the ice-sea they found what had once been watercourses
opening out into rivers towards the sea; and in the lowest parts there
was a kind of lichen-growth clinging to the rocks under the snow. On the
surface of the snow they saw traces of what might have been the tracks
of animals, but, as there was no breath of wind in the attenuated
atmosphere, it was quite possible that these might have been frozen into
permanent shape hundreds or thousands of years before. It was also
possible that if they had explored long enough they might have found
some low forms of animal life, but as they had landed almost on the
equator of the satellite, under the full rays of the Sun, and seen
nothing, this was hardly likely.

"I don't think it is worth while stopping here any longer," said Zaidie,
who was getting a little bit _blasé_ with her interplanetary
experiences. "We've got lots to see further on, so if you don't mind I
think I'll just take two or three photographs, then we can get back to
the ship and have dinner and go on and see what Ganymede is like. He's
bigger than Mercury, and nearly as big as Mars, so we ought to find
something interesting there. This is only a sort of combination of the
Moon and the polar regions and I don't think very much of it. Suppose we
go back."

"Just as your Ladyship pleases," laughed Redgrave over the wire which
connected their helmets, as, with joined hands, they turned back and
danced along the snow-covered ocean shore towards the _Astronef_.

Zaidie took a couple of photographs of the mountain range and the
ice-sea and another one of the general landscape of Calisto as they rose
from the surface. Then, while she went to get lunch ready, Redgrave took
the pieces of rock and the bag of dust into the laboratory which opened
out of the main engine-room and analysed them. When he came out about an
hour later he saw Murgatroyd going through his beloved engines with an
oil-can and a piece of common cotton-waste which had come from a faraway
Yorkshire mill.

"Andrew," he said, "should you be surprised if I told you that that moon
we've just left seems to be mostly made of a spongy sort of alloy of
gold and silver?"

"My lord," said the old engineer, straightening himself up and looking
at him with eyes in which this announcement had not seemed to kindle a
spark of interest, "after what I have seen so far there's nothing
that'll surprise me unless it be that the grace of God allows us to get
back safely."

"Amen, Andrew, that's well said," replied Redgrave, and then he went
back to the saloon and Murgatroyd went on with his oiling.

When he told her ladyship of his discovery she just looked up from the
table she was laying and said:

"Oh, indeed! Well, I'm very glad that it's five or six hundred million
miles from the Earth. A dead world bigger than the Moon, and made of
gold and silver sponge, wouldn't be a nice thing to have too near the
Earth. There's trouble enough about that sort of thing at home as it is.
Still, it'll be a nice addition to the museum, and if you'll put it away
and go and wash your hands lunch will be ready."

When they got back to the deck-chamber Calisto was already a half moon
in the upper sky nearly five hundred thousand miles away, and the full
orb of Ganymede, shining with a pale golden light, lay outspread beneath
them. A thin, bluish-grey arc of the giant planet overarched its western
edge.

"I think we shall find something like a world here," said her ladyship,
when she had taken her first look through her telescope; "there's an
atmosphere and what look like thin clouds. Continents and oceans too, or
something like them, and what is that light shining up between the
breaks? Isn't it something like our Aurora?"

"It might be," replied Redgrave, turning his own telescope towards the
northern pole of Ganymede, "though I never heard of a satellite having
an aurora. Perhaps it's the Sun shining on the ice."

As the _Astronef_ fell towards the surface of Ganymede she crossed his
northern pole, and the nearer they got the plainer it became that a
light very like the terrestrial Aurora was playing about it,
illuminating the thin, yellow clouds with a bluish-violet light, which
made magnificent contrasts of colouring amongst them.

"Let us go down there and see what it's like," said Zaidie. "There must
be something nice under all those lovely colours."

Redgrave checked the R. Force and the _Astronef_ fell obliquely across
the pole towards the equator. As they approached the luminous clouds
Redgrave turned it on again, and they sank slowly through a glowing mist
of innumerable colours, until the surface of Ganymede came into plain
view about ten miles below them.

What they saw then was the strangest sight they had beheld since they
had left the Earth. As far as their eyes could reach the surface of the
Ganymede was covered with vast orderly patches, mostly rectangular, of
what they at first took for ice, but which they soon found to be a
something that was self-illuminating.

"Glorified hot-houses, as I'm alive," exclaimed Redgrave. "Whole cities
under glass, fields, too, and lit by electricity or something very like
it. Zaidie, we shall find human beings down there."

"Well, if we do I hope they won't be like the half-human things we found
on Mars! But isn't it all just lovely! Only there doesn't seem to be
anything outside the cities, at least nothing but bare, flat ground with
a few rugged mountains here and there. See, there's a nice level plain
there near the big glass city, or whatever it is. Suppose we go down
there."

Redgrave checked the after engine which was driving them obliquely over
the surface of the satellite, and the _Astronef_ fell vertically towards
a bare, flat plain of what looked like deep yellow sand, which spread
for miles alongside one of the glittering cities of glass.

"Oh, look, they've seen us!" exclaimed Zaidie. "I do hope they're going
to be as friendly as those dear people on Venus were."

"I hope so," replied Redgrave, "but if they're not we've got the guns
ready."

As he said this about twenty streams of an intense bluish light suddenly
shot up all round them, concentrating themselves upon the hull of the
_Astronef_, which was now about a mile and a half from the surface. The
light was so intense that the rays of the Sun were lost in it. They
looked at each other, and found that their faces looked almost perfectly
white in it. The plain and the city below had vanished.

To look downwards was like staring straight into the focus of a ten
thousand candle-power electric arc lamp. It was so intolerable that
Redgrave closed the lower shutters, and meanwhile he found that the
_Astronef_ had ceased to descend. He shut off more of the R. Force, but
it produced no effect. The _Astronef_ remained stationary. Then he
ordered Murgatroyd to set the propellers in motion. The engineer pulled
the starting-levers, and then came up out of the engine-room and said to
him:

"It's no good, my Lord; I don't know what devil's world we've got into
now, but they won't work. If I thought that engines could be
bewitched----"

"Oh, nonsense, Andrew!" said his lordship rather testily. "It's
perfectly simple: those people down there, whoever they are, have got
some way of demagnetising us, or else they've got the R. Force too, and
they're applying it against us to stop us going down. Apparently they
don't want us. No, that's just to show us that they can stop us if they
want to. The light's going down. Begin dropping a bit. Don't start the
propellers, but just go and see that the guns are all right in case of
accidents."

The old engineer nodded and went back to his engines, looking
considerably scared. As he spoke the brilliancy of the light faded
rapidly, and the _Astronef_ began to sink slowly towards the surface.

As a precaution against their being allowed to drop with force enough to
cause a disaster, Redgrave turned the R. Force on again and they fell
slowly towards the plain, through what seemed like a halo of perfectly
white light. When she was within a couple of hundred yards of the ground
a winged car of exquisitely graceful shape rose from the roof of one of
the huge glass buildings nearest to them, flew swiftly towards them, and
after circling once round the dome of the upper deck, ran close
alongside.

The car was occupied by two figures of distinctly human form but rather
more than human stature. Both were dressed in long, close-fitting
garments of what seemed like a golden brown fleece. Their heads were
covered with a close hood and their hands with gloves.

"What an exceedingly handsome man!" said Zaidie, as one of them stood
up. "I never saw such a noble-looking face in my life; it's half
philosopher, half saint. Of course, you won't be jealous?"

"Oh, nonsense!" he laughed. "It would be quite impossible to imagine
_you_ in love with either. But he is handsome, and evidently
friendly--there's no mistaking that. Answer him, Zaidie; you can do it
better than I can."

The car had now come close alongside. The standing figure stretched its
hands out, palms upward, smiled a smile which Zaidie thought was very
sweetly solemn, next the head was bowed, and the gloved hands brought
back and crossed over his breast. Zaidie imitated the movements exactly.
Then, as the figure raised its head she raised hers, and she found
herself looking into a pair of large, luminous eyes such as she could
have imagined under the brows of an angel. As they met hers a look of
unmistakable wonder and admiration came into them. Redgrave was standing
just behind her; she took him by the hand and drew him beside her,
saying, with a little laugh:

"Now, please look as pleasant as you can; I am sure they are very
friendly. A man with a face like that couldn't mean any harm."

The figure repeated the motions to Redgrave, who returned them, perhaps
a trifle awkwardly.

Then the car began to descend, and the figure beckoned to them to
follow.

"You'd better go and wrap up, dear. From the gentleman's dress it seems
pretty cold outside; though the air is evidently quite breathable," said
Redgrave, as the _Astronef_ began to drop in company with the car. "At
any rate, I'll try it first, and if it isn't we can put on our
breathing-dresses."

When Zaidie had made her winter toilet, and Redgrave had found the air
to be quite respirable, but of Arctic cold, they went down the gangway
ladder about twenty minutes later. The figure had got out of the car,
which was laying a few yards from them on the sandy plain, and came
forward to meet them with both hands outstretched.

[Illustration: _Came forward to meet them with both hands outstretched._]

Zaidie unhesitatingly held out hers, and a strange thrill ran through
her as she felt them for the first time clasped gently by other than
earthly hands, for the Venus folk had only been able to pat and stroke
with their gentle little paws, somewhat as a kitten might do. The figure
bowed its head again and said something in a low, melodious voice, which
was, of course, quite unintelligible save for the evident friendliness
of its tone. Then, releasing her hands, he took Redgrave's in the same
fashion, and then led the way towards a vast, domed building of
semi-opaque glass, or rather a substance that seemed to be something
like a mixture of glass and mica, which appeared to be one of the
entrance gates of the city.



CHAPTER XV


The wondering visitors from far-off Terra had hardly halted before the
magnificent portal when a huge sheet of frosted glass rose silently from
the ground. They passed through and it fell behind them. They found
themselves in a great oval ante-chamber along each side of which stood
triple rows of strangely shaped trees whose leaves gave off a subtle and
most agreeable scent. The temperature here was several degrees higher,
in fact about that of an English spring day, and Zaidie immediately
threw open her big fur cloak, saying:

"These good people seem to live in Winter Gardens, don't they? I don't
think I shall want these things much while we're inside. I wonder what
dear old Andrew would have thought of this if we could have persuaded
him to leave the ship."

They followed their host through the ante-chamber towards a magnificent
pointed arch raised on clusters of small pillars each of a differently
coloured, highly polished stone, which shone brilliantly in a light
which seemed to come from nowhere. Another door, this time of pale
transparent blue glass, rose as they approached; they passed under it,
and as it fell behind them half a dozen figures, considerably shorter
and slighter than their host, came forward to meet them. He took off his
gloves and cape and thick outer covering, and they were glad to follow
his example for the atmosphere was now that of a warm June day.

The attendants, as they evidently were, took their wraps from them,
looking at the furs and stroking them with evident wonder; but with
nothing like the wonder which came into their big soft grey eyes when
they looked at Zaidie, who, as usual when she arrived on a new world,
was arrayed in one of her daintiest costumes.

Their host was now dressed in a tunic of a light blue material, which
glistened with a lustre greater than that of the finest silk. It reached
a little below his knees, and was confined at the waist by a sash of the
same colour but of somewhat deeper hue. His feet and legs were covered
with stockings of the same material and colour, and his feet, which were
small for his stature and exquisitely shaped, were shod with thin
sandals of a material which looked like soft felt, and which made no
noise as he walked over the delicately coloured mosaic pavement of the
street--for such it actually was--which ran past the gate.

When he removed his cape they expected to find that he was bald like the
Martians, but they were mistaken. His well-shaped head was covered with
long, thick hair of a colour something between bronze and grey. A broad
band of metal looking like light gold passed round the upper part of his
forehead, and from under this the hair fell in gentle waves to below his
shoulders.

For a few moments Zaidie and Redgrave stared about them in frank and
silent wonder. They were standing in a broad street running in a
straight line to what seemed to be several miles along the edge of a
city of crystal. It was lined with double rows of trees with beds of
brilliantly coloured flowers between them. From this street others went
off at right angles and at regular intervals. The roof of the city
appeared to be composed of an infinity of domes of enormous extent,
supported by tall clusters of slender pillars standing at the street
corners. The general level of the roof seemed about three hundred feet
above the ground, and the summits of the domes some fifty feet higher.

The houses, which were all square, were, as a rule, about forty feet
high. The roofs were covered with gardens and shrubberies, from which
creepers, bearing brillantly coloured leaves and flowers, hung down
about the windows in carefully arranged festoons. The walls were
composed of the opaque mica-like glass, relieved by pillars and arched
doorways and windows. The windows, of French form, were of clear glass,
and mostly stood open. A sweet, cool zephyr of hardly perceptible
strength appeared to be blowing along the street and over the house-tops
and in the vast airy space above the roofs.

Brightly plumaged birds were flitting about among the branches of giant
trees, and keeping up a perpetual chorus of song.

Presently their host touched Redgrave on the shoulder and pointed to a
four-wheeled car of light framework and exquisite design, containing
seats for four besides the driver, or guide, who sat behind. He held out
his hand to Zaidie, and handed her to one of the front seats just as an
Earth-born gentleman might have done. Then he motioned to Redgrave to
sit beside her, and mounted behind them.

The car immediately began to move silently, but with considerable speed,
along the left-hand side of the outer street, which, like all the
others, was divided by narrow strips of russet-coloured grass and
flowering shrubs.

In a few minutes it swung round to the right, crossed the road, and
entered a magnificent avenue, which, after a run of some four miles,
ended in a vast, park-like square, measuring at least a mile each way.

The two sides of the avenue were busy with cars like their own, some
carrying six people, and others only the driver. Those on each side of
the road all went in the same direction. Those nearest to the broad
side-walks between the houses and the first row of trees went at a
moderate speed of five or six miles an hour, but along the inner sides,
near the central line of trees, they seemed to be running as high as
thirty miles an hour. Their occupants were nearly all dressed in clothes
made of the same glistening, silky fabric as their host wore, but the
colourings were of infinite variety.

It was quite easy to distinguish between the sexes, although in stature
they were almost equal. The men were nearly all clothed as their host
was. The colours of their garments were quieter, and there was little
attempt at personal adornment, though many wore bands of an intensely
bright, sky-blue metal round their arms above the elbow, and others wore
belts and necklaces of links composed of this and two other metals
resembling gold and aluminum, but of an exceedingly high lustre.

The women were dressed in flowing garments something after the Greek
style, but they were of brighter hues and much more lavishly embroidered
than the men's tunics were. They also wore much more jewellery. Indeed,
some of the younger ones glittered from head to foot with polished metal
and gleaming stones. There was one more difference which they quickly
noticed. The men's hair, like their host's, was nearly always wavy, but
that of the women, especially the younger, was a mass of either natural
or artificial curls, short and crisp about the head, and flowing down in
glistening ringlets to their waists.

"Could any one ever have dreamt of such a lovely place?" said Zaidie,
after their wondering eyes had become accustomed to the marvels about
them, "and yet--oh dear, now I know what it reminds me of! Flammarion's
book, 'The End of the World,' where he describes the remnants of the
human race dying of cold and hunger on the Equator in places something
like this. I suppose the life of poor Ganymede is giving out, and that's
why they've got to live in magnified exposition buildings, poor things!"

"Poor things!" laughed Redgrave. "I'm afraid I can't agree with you
there, dear. I never saw a jollier-looking lot of people in my life. I
daresay you're quite right, but they certainly seem to view their
approaching end with considerable equanimity."

"Don't be horrid, Lenox! Fancy talking in that cold-blooded way about
such delightful-looking people as these, why, they are even nicer than
our dear bird-folk on Venus, and of course they are a great deal more
like ourselves."

"Wherefore it stands to reason that they must be a great deal nicer!" he
replied, with a glance which brought a brighter flush to her cheeks.
Then he went on, "Ah, now I see the difference."

"What difference? Between what?"

"Between the daughter of Earth and the daughters of Ganymede," he
replied. "You can blush, and I don't think they can. Haven't you noticed
that, although they have the most exquisite skins and beautiful eyes and
hair and all that sort of thing, not a man or woman of them has any
colouring? I suppose that's the result of living for generations in a
hothouse."

"Very likely," she said; "but has it struck you also that all the girls
and women are either beautiful or handsome, and all the men, except the
ones that seem to be servants or slaves, are something like Greek gods,
or, at least, the sort of men you see on the Greek sculptures?"

"Survival of the fittest, I presume. These are probably the descendants
of the highest races of Ganymede; the people who conceived the idea of
prolonging the life of their race and were able to carry it out. The
inferior races would either perish of starvation or become their
servants. That's what will happen on Earth, and there is no reason why
it shouldn't have happened here."

As he said this the car swung out round a broad curve into the centre of
the great square, and a little cry of amazement broke from Zaidie's lips
as her glance roamed over the multiplying splendours about her.

In the centre of the square, in the midst of smooth lawns and
flower-beds of every conceivable shape and colour, and groves of
flowering trees, stood a great domed building, which they approached
through an avenue of overarching trees interlaced with flowering
creepers.

The car stopped at the foot of a triple flight of stairs of dazzling
whiteness which led up to a broad arched doorway. Several groups of
people were sprinkled about the avenue and steps and the wide terrace
which ran along the front of the building. They looked with keen, but
perfectly well-mannered surprise at their strange visitors, and seemed
to be discussing their appearance; but not a step was taken towards
them, nor was there the slightest sign of anything like vulgar
curiosity.

"What perfect manners these dear people have!" said Zaidie, as they
dismounted at the foot of the staircase. "I wonder what would happen if
a couple of them were to be landed from a motor-car in front of the
Capitol at Washington. I suppose this is their Capitol, and we've been
brought here to be put through our facings. What a pity we can't talk to
them! I wonder if they'd believe our story if we could tell it."

"I've no doubt they know something of it already," replied Redgrave;
"they're evidently people of immense intelligence. Intellectually, I
daresay, we're mere children compared with them, and it's quite possible
that they have developed senses which we have no idea of."

"And perhaps," added Zaidie, "all the time that we are talking to each
other our friend here is quietly reading everything that is going on in
our minds."

Whether this was so or not their host gave no sign of comprehension. He
led them up the steps and through the great doorway, where he was met by
three splendidly dressed men even taller than himself.

"I feel beastly shabby among all these gorgeously attired personages,"
said Redgrave, looking down at his plain tweed suit, as they were
conducted with every manifestation of politeness along the magnificent
vestibule into which the door opened.

"And I'm sure I am quite a dowdy in comparison with these lovely
creatures," added Zaidie, "although this dress was made in Paris. Lenox,
if things are for sale here you'll have to buy me one of those costumes,
and we'll take it back and get one made like it. I wonder what they'd
think of me dressed in one of those costumes at a ball at the
Waldorf-Astoria."

Before he could make a suitable reply, a door at the end of the
vestibule opened and they were ushered into a large hall which was
evidently a council-chamber. At the further end of it were three
semi-circular rows of seats made of a polished silvery metal, and in the
centre and raised slightly above them another under a canopy of sky-blue
silk. This seat and six others were occupied by men of most venerable
aspect, in spite of the fact their hair was just as long and thick and
glossy as their host's or even as Zaidie's own.

The ceremony of introduction was exceedingly simple. Though they could
not, of course, understand a word he said, it was evident from his
eloquent gestures that their host described the way in which they had
come from Space and landed on the surface of the World of the Crystal
Cities, as Zaidie subsequently re-christened Ganymede.

The President of the Senate or Council spoke a few sentences in a deep
musical tone. Then their host, taking their hands, led them up to his
seat, and the President rose and took them by both hands in turn. Then,
with a grave smile of greeting, he bent his head and resumed his seat.
They joined hands in turn with each of the six senators present, bowed
their farewells in silence, and then went back with their host to the
car.

They ran down the avenue, made a curving sweep round to the left--for
all the paths in the great square were laid in curves, apparently to
form a contrast to the straight streets--and presently stopped before
the porch of one of the hundred palaces which surrounded it. This was
their host's house, and their home during the rest of their sojourn on
Ganymede.



CHAPTER XVI


The period of Ganymede's revolution round its gigantic primary is seven
days, three hours, and forty-three minutes, practically a terrestrial
week, and on their return to their native world both the daring
navigators of Space described this as the most interesting and
delightful week in their lives, excepting always the period which they
spent in the Eden of the Morning Star. Yet in one sense, it was even
more interesting.

There the inhabitants had never learnt to sin; here they had learnt the
lesson that sin is mere foolishness, and that no really sensible or
properly educated man or woman thinks crime worth committing.

The life of the Crystal Cities, of which they visited four in different
parts of the satellite, using the _Astronef_ as their vehicle, was one
of peaceful industry and calm, innocent enjoyment. It was quite plain
that their first impressions of this aged world were correct. Outside
the cities spread a universal desert on which life was impossible. There
was hardly any moisture in the thin atmosphere. The rivers had dwindled
into rivulets and the seas into vast, shallow marshes. The heat received
from the Sun was only about a twenty-fifth of that which falls on the
surface of the Earth, and this was drawn to the cities and collected and
preserved under their glass domes by a number of devices which displayed
superhuman intelligence.

The dwindling supplies of water were hoarded in vast subterranean
reservoirs, and, by means of a perfect system of redistillation, the
priceless fluid was used over and over again both for human purposes and
for irrigating the land within the cities. Still the total quantity was
steadily diminishing, for it was not only evaporating from the surface,
but, as the orb cooled more and more rapidly towards its centre, it
descended deeper and deeper below the surface, and could now only be
reached by means of marvellously constructed borings and pumping
machinery which extended several miles below the surface.

The fast-failing store of heat in the centre of the little world, which
had now cooled through more than half its bulk, was utilised for warming
the air of the cities, and to drive the machinery which propelled it
through the streets and squares. All work was done by electric energy
developed directly from this source, which also actuated the repulsive
engines which had prevented the _Astronef_ from descending.

In short, the inhabitants of Ganymede were engaged in a steady,
ceaseless struggle to utilise the expiring natural forces of their world
to prolong their own lives and the exquisitely refined civilisation to
which they had attained to the latest possible date. They were, indeed,
in exactly the same position in which the distant descendants of the
human race may one day be expected to find themselves.

Their domestic life, as Zaidie and Redgrave saw it while they were the
guests of their host, was the perfection of simplicity and comfort, and
their public life was characterised by a quiet but intense
intellectuality which, as Zaidie had said, made them feel very much like
children who had only just learnt to speak.

As they possessed magnificent telescopes, far surpassing any on Earth,
their guests were able to survey, not only the Solar System, but the
other systems far beyond its limits as no others of their kind had ever
been able to do before. They did not look through or into the
telescopes. The lens was turned upon the object, and this was thrown,
enormously magnified, upon screens of what looked something like ground
glass some fifty feet square. It was thus that they saw, not only the
whole visible surface of Jupiter as he revolved above them and they
about him, but also their native Earth, sometimes a pale silver disc or
crescent close to the edge of the Sun, visible only in the morning and
the evening of Jupiter, and at other times like a little black spot
crossing the glowing surface.

But there was another development of the science of the Crystal Cities
which interested them far more than this--for after all they could not
only see the Worlds of Space for themselves, but circumnavigate them if
they chose.

During their stay they were shown on these same screens the pictorial
history of the world whose guests they were. These pictures, which they
recognised as an immeasurable development of what is called the
cinematograph process on Earth, extended through the whole gamut of the
satellite's life. They formed, in fact, the means by which the children
of Ganymede were taught the history of their world.

It was, of course, inevitable that the _Astronef_ should prove an object
of intense interest to their hosts. They had solved the problem of the
Resolution of Forces, as Professor Rennick had done, and, as they were
shown pictorially, a vessel had been made which embodied the principles
of attraction and repulsion. It had risen from the surface of Ganymede,
and then, possibly because its engines could not develop sufficient
repulsive force, the tremendous pull of the giant planet had dragged it
away. It had vanished through the cloud-belts towards the flaming
surface beneath--and the experiment had never been repeated.

Here, however, was a vessel which had actually, as Redgrave had
convinced his hosts by means of celestial maps and drawings of his own,
left a planet close to the Sun, and safely crossed the tremendous gulf
of six hundred and fifty million miles which separated Jupiter from the
centre of the system. Moreover, he had twice proved her powers by taking
his host and two of his newly-made friends, the chief astronomers of
Ganymede, on a short trip across Space to Calisto and Europa, the second
satellite of Jupiter, which, to their very grave interest, they found
had already passed the stage in which Ganymede was, and had lapsed into
the icy silence of death.

It was these two journeys which led to the last adventure of the
_Astronef_ in the Jovian System. Both Redgrave and Zaidie had
determined, at whatever risk, to pass through the cloud-belts of
Jupiter, and catch a glimpse, if only a glimpse, of a world in the
making. Their host and the two astronomers, after a certain amount of
quiet discussion, accepted their invitation to accompany them, and on
the morning of the eighth day after their landing on Ganymede, the
_Astronef_ rose from the plain outside the Crystal City, and directed
her course towards the centre of the vast disc of Jupiter.

She was followed by the telescopes of all the observatories until she
vanished through the brilliant cloud-band, eighty-five thousand miles
long and some five thousand miles broad, which stretched from east to
west of the planet. At the same moment the voyagers lost sight of
Ganymede and his sister satellites.

The temperature of the interior of the _Astronef_ began to rise as soon
as the upper cloud-belt was passed. Under this, spread out a vast field
of brown-red cloud, rent here and there into holes and gaps like those
storm-cavities in the atmosphere of the Sun, which are commonly known as
sun-spots. This lower stratum of cloud appeared to be the scene of
terrific storms, compared with which the fiercest earthly tempests were
mere zephyrs.

After falling some five hundred miles further they found themselves
surrounded by what seemed an ocean of fire, but still the internal
temperature had only risen from seventy to ninety-five. The engines were
well under control. Only about a fourth of the total R. Force was being
developed, and the _Astronef_ was dropping swiftly, but steadily.

Redgrave, who was in the conning-tower controlling the engines, beckoned
to Zaidie and said:

"Shall we go on?"

"Yes," she said. "Now we've got as far as this I want to see what
Jupiter is like, and where you are not afraid to go, I'll go."

"If I'm afraid at all it's only because you are with me, Zaidie," he
replied, "but I've only got a fourth of the power turned on yet, so
there's plenty of margin."

The _Astronef_, therefore, continued to sink through what seemed to be a
fathomless ocean of whirling, blazing clouds, and the internal
temperature went on rising slowly but steadily. Their guests, without
showing the slightest sign of any emotion, walked about the upper deck
now, singly and now together, apparently absorbed by the strange scene
about them.

At length, after they had been dropping for some five hours by
_Astronef_ time, one of them, uttering a sharp exclamation, pointed to
an enormous rift about fifty miles away. A dull, red glare was streaming
up out of it. The next moment the brown cloud-floor beneath them seemed
to split up into enormous wreaths of vapour, which whirled up on all
sides of them, and a few minutes later they caught their first glimpse
of the true surface of Jupiter.

It lay, as nearly as they could judge, some two thousand miles beneath
them, a distance which the telescopes reduced to less than twenty; and
they saw for a few moments the world that was in the making. Through
floating seas of misty steam they beheld what seemed to them to be vast
continents shape themselves and melt away into oceans of flames. Whole
mountain ranges of glowing lava were hurled up miles high to take shape
for an instant and then fall away again, leaving fathomless gulfs of
fiery mist in their place.

[Illustration: _Whole mountain ranges of glowing lava were hurled up
miles high._]


Then waves of molten matter rose up again out of the gulfs, tens of
miles high and hundreds of miles long, surged forward, and met with a
concussion like that of millions of earthly thunder-clouds. Minute after
minute they remained writhing and struggling with each other, flinging
up spurts of flaming matter far above their crests. Other waves followed
them, climbing up their bases as a sea-surge runs up the side of a
smooth, slanting rock. Then from the midst of them a jet of living fire
leapt up hundreds of miles into the lurid atmosphere above, and then,
with a crash and a roar which shook the vast Jovian firmament, the
battling lava-waves would split apart and sink down into the
all-surrounding fire-ocean, like two grappling giants who had strangled
each other in their final struggle.

"It's just Hell let loose!" said Murgatroyd to himself as he looked down
upon the terrific scene through one of the port-holes of the
engine-room; "and, with all respect to my lord and her ladyship, those
that come this near almost deserve to stop in it."

Meanwhile, Redgrave and Zaidie and their three guests were so absorbed
in the tremendous spectacle, that for a few moments no one noticed that
they were dropping faster and faster towards the world which Murgatroyd,
according to his lights, had not inaptly described. As for Zaidie, all
her fears were for the time being lost in wonder, until she saw her
husband take a swift glance round upwards and downwards, and then go up
into the conning-tower. She followed him quickly, and said:

"What is the matter, Lenox, are we falling too quickly?"

"Much faster than we should," he replied, sending a signal to Murgatroyd
to increase the force by three-tenths.

The answering signal came back, but still the _Astronef_ continued to
fall with terrific rapidity, and the awful landscape beneath them--a
landscape of fire and chaos--broadened out and became more and more
distinct.

He sent two more signals down in quick succession. Three-fourths of the
whole repulsive power of the engines was now being exerted--a force
which would have been sufficient to hurl the _Astronef_ up from the
surface of the Earth like a feather in a whirlwind. Her downward course
became a little slower, but still she did not stop. Zaidie, white to the
lips, looked down upon the hideous scene beneath and slipped her hand
through Redgrave's arm. He looked at her for an instant and then turned
his head away with a jerk, and sent down the last signal.

The whole energy of the engines was now directing the maximum of the R.
Force against the surface of Jupiter, but still, as every moment passed
in a speechless agony of apprehension, it grew nearer and nearer. The
fire-waves mounted higher and higher, the roar of the fiery surges grew
louder and louder. Then in a momentary lull, he put his arm round her,
drew her close up to him and kissed her and said:

"That's all we can do, dear. We've come too close and he's too strong
for us."

She returned his kiss and said quite steadily:

"Well, at any rate, I'm with you, and it won't last long, will it?"

"Not very long now, I'm afraid," he said between his clenched teeth. And
then he pulled her close to him again, and together they looked down
into the storm-tossed hell towards which they were falling at the rate
of nearly a hundred miles a minute.

Almost the next moment they felt a little jerk beneath their feet--a
jerk upwards; and Redgrave shook himself out of the half stupor into
which he was falling and said:

"Hullo, what's that? I believe we're stopping--yes, we are--and we're
beginning to rise, too. Look, dear, the clouds are coming down upon
us--fast too! I wonder what sort of miracle that is. Ay, what's the
matter, little woman?"

Zaidie's head had dropped heavily on his shoulder. A glance showed him
that she had fainted. He could do nothing more in the conning-tower, so
he picked her up and carried her towards the companion-way, past his
three guests, who were standing in the middle of the upper deck round a
table on which lay a large sheet of paper.

He took her below and laid her on her bed, and in a few minutes he had
brought her to and told her that it was all right. Then he gave her a
drink of brandy-and-water and went back to the upper deck. As he reached
the top of the stairway one of the astronomers came towards him with a
sheet of paper in his hand, smiling gravely, and pointing to a sketch
upon it.

He took the paper under one of the electric lights and looked at it. The
sketch was a plan of the Jovian System. There were some signs written
along one side, which he did not understand, but he divined that they
were calculations. Still, there was no mistaking the diagram. There was
a circle representing the huge bulk of Jupiter; there were four smaller
circles at varying distances in a nearly straight line from it, and
between the nearest of these and the planet was the figure of the
_Astronef_, with an arrow pointing upwards.

"Ah, I see!" he said, forgetting for a moment that the other did not
understand him, "that was the miracle! The four satellites came into
line with us just as the pull of Jupiter was getting too much for our
engines, and their combined pull just turned the scale. Well, thank God
for that, sir, for in a few minutes more we should have been cinders!"

The astronomer smiled again as he took the paper back. Meanwhile the
_Astronef_ was rushing upward like a meteor through the clouds. In ten
minutes the limits of the Jovian atmosphere were passed. Stars and suns
and planets blazed out of the black vault of Space, and the great disc
of the World that Is to Be once more covered the floor of Space beneath
them--an ocean of cloud, covering continents of lava and seas of flame,
the scene of the natal throes of a world which some day will be.

They passed Io and Europa, which changed from new to full moons as they
sped by towards the Sun, and then the golden yellow crescent of Ganymede
also began to fill out to the half and full disc, and by the tenth hour
of Earth-time, after they had risen from its surface, the _Astronef_ was
once more lying beside the gate of the Crystal City.

At midnight on the second night after their return, the ringed shape of
Saturn, attended by his eight satellites, hung in the zenith
magnificently inviting. The _Astronef's_ engines had been replenished
after the exhaustion of their struggle with the might of Jupiter. They
said farewell to their friends of the dying world. The doors of the
air-chamber closed. The signal tinkled in the engine-room, and a few
moments later a blurr of white lights on the brown background of the
surrounding desert was all they could see of the Crystal City under
whose domes they had seen and learnt so much.



CHAPTER XVII


The relative position of the two giants of the Solar System at the
moment when the _Astronef_ left the surface of Ganymede, was such that
she had to make a journey of rather more than 340,000,000 miles before
she passed within the confines of the Saturnine System.

At first her speed, as shown by the observations which Redgrave took
with the instruments which Professor Rennick had designed for the
purpose, was comparatively slow. This was due to the tremendous pull of
Jupiter and its four moons on the fabric of the vessel. The backward
drag rapidly decreased as the pull of Saturn and his system began to
overmaster that of Jupiter.

It so happened, too, that Uranus, the next outer planet of the Solar
System, 1,700,000,000 miles away from the Sun, was approaching its
conjunction with Saturn, and so assisted in producing a constant
acceleration of speed.

Jupiter and his satellites dropped behind, sinking, as it seemed to the
wanderers, down into the bottomless gulf of Space, but still forming by
far the most brilliant and splendid object in the skies. The far-distant
Sun, which, seen from the Saturnian System, has only about a nineteenth
of the superficial extent which it presents to the Earth, dwindled away
rapidly until it began to look like a huge planet, with the Earth,
Venus, Mars, and Mercury as satellites. Beyond the orbit of Saturn,
Uranus, with his eight moons, was shining with the lustre of a star of
the first magnitude, and far above and beyond him again hung the pale
disc of Neptune, the Outer Guard of the Solar System, separated from the
Sun by a gulf of more than 2,750,000,000 miles.

When two-thirds of the distance between Jupiter and Saturn had been
traversed, Ringed Orb lay beneath them like a vast globe surrounded by
an enormous circular ocean of many-coloured fire, divided, as it were,
by circular shores of shade and darkness. On the side opposite to them a
gigantic conical shadow extended beyond the confines of the ocean of
light. It was the shadow of half the globe of Saturn cast by the Sun
across his rings. Three little dark spots were also travelling across
the surface of the rings. They were the shadows of Mimas, Enceladus, and
Tethys, the three inner satellites. Japetus, the most distant, which
revolves at a distance ten times greater than that of the Moon from the
Earth, was rising to their left above the edge of the rings, a pale,
yellow, little disc shining feebly against the black background of
Space. The rest of the eight satellites were hidden behind the enormous
bulk of the planet and the infinitely vaster area of the rings.

Day after day Zaidie and her husband had been exhausting the
possibilities of the English language in attempting to describe to each
other the multiplying marvels of the wondrous scene which they were
approaching at a speed of more than a hundred miles a second, and at
length Zaidie, after nearly an hour's absolute silence, during which
they sat with eyes fastened to their telescopes, looked up and said:

"It's no use, Lenox, all the fine words that we've been trying to think
of have just been wasted. The angels may have a language that you could
describe that in, but we haven't. If it wouldn't be something like
blasphemy I should drop down to the commonplace, and call Saturn a
celestial spinning-top, with bands of light and shadow instead of
colours all round it."

"Not at all a bad simile either," laughed Redgrave, as he got up from
his chair with a yawn and a stretch of his long limbs, "still, it's as
well that you said celestial, for, after all, that's about the best word
we've found yet. Certainly the Ringed World is the most nearly heavenly
thing we've seen so far.

"But," he went on, "I think it's about time we were stopping this
headlong fall of ours. Do you see how the landscape is spreading out
round us? That means that we are dropping pretty fast. Whereabouts would
you like to land? At present we're heading straight for Saturn's north
pole."

"I think I'd rather see what the rings are like first," said Zaidie;
"couldn't we go across them?"

"Certainly we can," he replied, "only we'll have to be a bit careful."

"Careful, what of--collisions? Are you thinking of Proctor's hypothesis
that the rings are formed of multitudes of tiny satellites?"

"Yes, but I should go a little farther than that, I should say that his
rings and his eight satellites are to Saturn what the planets generally
and the ring of the Asteroides are to the Sun, and if that is the
case--I mean if we find the rings made up of myriads of tiny bodies
flying round with Saturn--it might get a bit risky.

"You see the outside ring is a bit over 160,000 miles across, and it
revolves in less than eleven hours. In other words we might find the
ring a sort of celestial maelstrom, and if we once got into the whirl,
and Saturn exerted his full pull on us, we might become a satellite,
too, and go on swinging round with the rest for a good bit of eternity."

"Very well then," she said, "of course we don't want to do anything of
that sort, but there's something else I think we could do," she went on,
taking up a copy of Proctor's "Saturn and its System," which she had
been reading just after breakfast. "You see those rings are, all
together, about 10,000 miles broad; there's a gap of about 1,700 miles
between the big dark one and the middle bright one, and it's nearly
10,000 miles from the edge of the bright ring to the surface of Saturn.
Now why shouldn't we get in between the inner ring and the planet? If
Proctor was right and the rings are made of tiny satellites and there
are myriads of them, of course they'll pull up while Saturn pulls down.
In fact Flammarion says somewhere that along Saturn's equator there is
no weight at all."

"Quite possible," replied Redgrave, "and, if you like, we'll go and
prove it. Of course, if the _Astronef_ weighs absolutely nothing between
Saturn and the rings, we can easily get away. The only thing that I
object to is getting into this 170,000-mile vortex, being whizzed round
with Saturn every ten and a half hours, and sauntering round the Sun at
21,000 miles an hour."

"Don't!" she said. "Really it isn't good to think about these things,
situated as we are. Fancy, in a single year of Saturn there are nearly
25,000 Earth-days. Why, we should each of us be about thirty years older
when we got round, even if we lived, which, of course, we shouldn't. By
the way, how long could we live for, if the worst came to the worst?"

"Given water, about one Earth-year at the outside;" "but, of course, we
shall be home long before that."

"If we don't become one of the satellites of Saturn," she replied, "or
get dragged away by something into the outer depths of Space."

Meanwhile the downward speed of the _Astronef_ had been considerably
checked. The vast circle of the rings seemed to suddenly expand, and
soon it covered the whole floor of the Vault of Space.

As she dropped towards what might be called the limit of the northern
tropic of Saturn, the spectacle presented by the rings became every
minute more and more marvellous--purple and silver, black and gold,
dotted with myriads of brilliant points of many-coloured light, they
stretched upwards like vast rainbows into the Saturnian sky as the
_Astronef's_ position changed with regard to the horizon of the planet.
The nearer they approached the surface, the nearer the gigantic arch of
the many-coloured rings approached the zenith. Sun and stars sank down
behind it, for now they were dropping through the fifteen-year-long
twilight that reigns over that portion of the globe of Saturn which,
during half of his year of thirty terrestrial years, is turned away from
the Sun.

The further they fell towards the rings the more certain it became that
the theory of the great English astronomer was the correct one. Seen
through the telescopes at a distance of only thirty or forty thousand
miles, it became perfectly plain that the outer or darker ring as seen
from the Earth was composed of myriads of tiny bodies so far separated
from each other that the rayless blackness of Space could be seen
through them.

"It's quite evident," said Redgrave, after a long look through his
telescope, "that those are rings of what we should call meteorites on
Earth, atoms of matter which Saturn threw off into Space after the
satellites were formed."

"And I shouldn't wonder, if you will excuse my interrupting you," said
Zaidie, "if the moons themselves have been made up of a lot of these
things going together when they were only gas, or nebula, or something
of that sort. In fact, when Saturn was a good deal younger than he is
now, he may have had a lot more rings and no moons, and now these
aerolites, or whatever they are, can't come together and make moons,
because they've got too solid."

Meanwhile the _Astronef_ was rapidly approaching that portion of
Saturn's surface which was illuminated by the rays of the Sun, streaming
under the lower arch of the inner ring.

As they passed under it the whole scene suddenly changed. The rings
vanished. Overhead was an arch of brilliant light a hundred miles thick,
spanning the whole of the visible heavens. Below lay the sunlit surface
of Saturn divided into light and dark bands of enormous breadth.

The band immediately below them was of a brilliant silver-grey, very
much like the central zone of Jupiter. North of this on the one side
stretched the long shadow of the rings, and southward other bands of
alternating white and gold and deep purple succeeded each other till
they were lost in the curvature of the vast planet. The poles were of
course invisible since the _Astronef_ was now too near the surface; but
on their approach they had seen unmistakable evidence of snow and ice.

As soon as they were exactly under the Ring-arch, Redgrave shut off the
R. Force, and, somewhat to their astonishment, the _Astronef_ began to
revolve slowly on its axis, giving them the idea that the Saturnian
System was revolving round them. The arch seemed to sink beneath their
feet while the belts of the planet rose above them.

"What on earth is the matter?" said Zaidie. "Everything has gone upside
down."

"Which shows," replied Redgrave, "that as soon as the _Astronef_ became
neutral the rings pulled harder than the planet, I suppose because we're
so near to them, and, instead of falling on to Saturn, we shall have to
push up at him."

"Oh yes, I see that," said Zaidie, "but after all it does look a little
bit bewildering, doesn't it, to be on your feet one minute and on your
head the next?"

"It is, rather; but you ought to be getting accustomed to that sort of
thing now. In a few minutes neither you, nor I, nor anything else will
have any weight. We shall be just between the attraction of the rings
and Saturn, so you'd better go and sit down, for if you were to give a
bit of an extra spring in walking you might be knocking that pretty head
of yours against the roof," said Redgrave, as he went to turn the R.
Force on to the edge of the rings.

A vast sea of silver cloud seemed now to descend upon them. Then they
entered it, and for nearly half an hour the _Astronef_ was totally
enveloped in a sea of pearl-grey luminous mist.

"Atmosphere!" said Redgrave, as he went to the conning-tower and
signalled to Murgatroyd to start the propellers. They continued to rise
and the mist began to drift past them in patches, showing that the
propellers were driving them ahead.

They now rose swiftly towards the surface of the planet. The cloud-wrack
got thinner and thinner, and presently they found themselves floating in
a clear atmosphere between two seas of cloud, the one above them being
much less dense than the one below.

"I believe we shall see Saturn on the other side of that," said Zaidie,
looking up at it. "Oh dear, there we are going round again."

"Reaching the point of neutral attraction," said Redgrave; "once more
you'd better sit down in case of accidents."

Instead of dropping into her deck-chair as she would have done on Earth,
she took hold of the arms and pulled herself into it, saying:

"Really, it seems rather absurd to have to do this sort of thing. Fancy
having to hold yourself into a chair. I suppose I hardly weigh anything
at all now."

"Not much," said Redgrave, stooping down and taking hold of the end of
the chair with both hands. Without any apparent effort he raised her
about five feet from the floor, and held her there while the _Astronef_
made another revolution. For a moment he let go, and she and the chair
floated between the roof and the floor of the deck-chamber. Then he
pulled the chair away from under her, and as the floor of the vessel
once more turned towards Saturn, he took hold of her hands and brought
her to her feet on deck again.

[Illustration: _Without any apparent effort he raised her about five
feet from the floor._]

"I ought to have had a photograph of you like that!" he laughed. "I
wonder what they'd think of it at home?"

"If you had taken one I should certainly have broken the negative. The
very idea--a photograph of me standing on nothing! Besides, they'd never
believe it on Earth."

"We might have got old Andrew to make an affidavit as to the true
circumstances," he began.

"Don't talk nonsense, Lenox! Look! there's something much more
interesting. There's Saturn at last. Now I wonder if we shall find any
sort of life there--and shall we be able to breathe the air?"

"I hardly think so," he said, as the _Astronef_ dropped slowly through
the thin cloud-veil. "You know spectrum analysis has proved that there
is a gas in Saturn's atmosphere which we know nothing about, and,
however good it may be for the Saturnians, it's not very likely that it
would agree with us, so I think we'd better be content with our own.
Besides, the atmosphere is so enormously dense that even if we could
breathe it it might squash us up. You see we're only accustomed to
fifteen pounds on the square inch, and it may be hundreds of pounds
here."

"Well," said Zaidie, "I haven't got any particular desire to be
flattened out, or squeezed dry like an orange. It's not at all a nice
idea, is it? But look, Lenox," she went on, pointing downwards, "surely
this isn't air at all, or at least it's something between air and water.
Aren't those things swimming about in it--something like fish in the
sea? They can't be clouds, and they aren't either fish or birds. They
don't fly or float. Well, this is certainly more wonderful than anything
else we've seen, though it doesn't look very pleasant. They're not
nice-looking, are they? I wonder if they are at all dangerous!"

While she was saying this Zaidie had gone to her telescope, and was
sweeping the surface of Saturn, which was now about a hundred miles
distant. Her husband was doing the same. In fact, for the time being
they were all eyes, for they were looking on a stranger sight than man
or woman had ever seen before.

Underneath the inner cloud-veil the atmosphere of Saturn appeared to
them somewhat as the lower depths of the ocean would appear to a diver,
granted that he was able to see for hundreds of miles about him. Its
colour was a pale greenish yellow. The outside thermometers showed that
the temperature was a hundred and seventy-five Fahrenheit. In fact, the
interior of the _Astronef_ was getting uncomfortably like a Turkish
bath, and Redgrave took the opportunity of at once freshening and
cooling the air by releasing a little oxygen from the cylinders.

From what they could see of the surface of Saturn it seemed to be a dead
level, greyish brown in colour, and not divided into oceans and
continents. In fact there were no signs whatever of water within range
of their telescopes. There was nothing that looked like cities, or any
human habitations, but the ground, as they got nearer to it, seemed to
be covered with a very dense vegetable growth, not unlike gigantic forms
of seaweed, and of somewhat the same colour. In fact, as Zaidie
remarked, the surface of Saturn was not at all unlike what the floors of
the ocean of the Earth might be if they were laid bare.

It was evident that the life of this portion of Saturn was not what, for
want of a more exact word, might be called terrestrial. Its inhabitants,
however they were constituted, floated about in the depths of this
semi-gaseous ocean as the denizens of earthly seas did in the
terrestrial oceans. Already their telescopes enabled them to make out
enormous moving shapes, black and grey-brown and pale red, swimming
about, evidently by their own volition, rising and falling and often
sinking down on to the gigantic vegetation which covered the surface,
possibly for the purpose of feeding. But it was also evident that they
resembled the inhabitants of earthly oceans in another respect, since it
was easy to see that they preyed upon each other.

"I don't like the look of those creatures at all," said Zaidie, when the
_Astronef_ had come to a stop and was floating about ten miles above the
surface. "They're altogether too uncanny. They look to me something like
jelly-fish about the size of whales, only they have eyes and mouths. Did
you ever see such awful-looking eyes, bigger than soup-plates and as
bright as a cat's. I suppose that's because of the dim light. And the
nasty wormy sort of way they swim, or fly, or whatever it is. Lenox, I
don't know what the rest of Saturn may be like, but I certainly don't
like this part. It's quite too creepy and unearthly for my taste. Look
at the horrors fighting and eating each other. That's the only bit of
earthly character they've got about them; the big ones eating the little
ones. I hope they won't take the _Astronef_ for something nice to eat."

"They'd find her a pretty tough morsel if they did," laughed Redgrave,
"but still we may as well get some steering way on her in case of
accident."



CHAPTER XVIII


A few moments later he sent a signal to Murgatroyd in the engine-room.
The propellers began to revolve slowly, beating the dense air and
driving the _Astronef_ at a speed of about twenty miles an hour through
the depths of this strangely peopled ocean.

They approached nearer and nearer to the surface, and as they did so the
uncanny creatures about them grew more and more numerous. They were
certainly the most extraordinary living things that human eyes had ever
looked upon. Zaidie's comparison to the whale and the jelly-fish was by
no means incorrect; only when they got near enough to them they found,
to their astonishment, that they were double-headed--that is to say,
they had a head with a mouth, nostrils, ear-holes, and eyes at each end
of their bodies.

The larger of the creatures appeared to have a certain amount of respect
for each other. Now and then they witnessed a battle-royal between two
of the monsters who were pursuing the same prey. Their method of attack
was as follows: The assailant would rise above his opponent or prey, and
then, dropping on to its back, envelop it and begin tearing at its sides
and under parts with huge beak-like jaws, somewhat resembling those of
the largest kind of the earthly octopus, only infinitely more
formidable. The substance composing their bodies appeared to be not
unlike that of a terrestrial jelly-fish, but much denser. It seemed from
their motions to have the tenacity of soft indiarubber save at the
headed ends, where it was much harder. The necks were protected for
about fifty feet by huge scales of a dull, greenish hue.

When one of them had overpowered an enemy or a victim the two sank down
into the vegetation, and the victor began to eat the vanquished. Their
means of locomotion consisted of huge fins, or rather half-fins,
half-wings, of which they had three laterally arranged behind each head,
and four much longer and narrower, above and below, which seemed to be
used mainly for steering purposes.

They moved with equal ease in either direction, and they appeared to
rise or fall by inflating or deflating the middle portions of their
bodies, somewhat as fish do with their swimming bladders.

The light in the lower regions of this strange ocean was dimmer than
earthly twilight, although the _Astronef_ was steadily making her way
beneath the arch of the rings towards the sunlit hemisphere.

"I wonder what the effect of the searchlight would be on these fellows!"
said Redgrave. "Those huge eyes of theirs are evidently only suited to
dim light. Let's try and dazzle some of them."

"I hope it won't be a case of the moths and the candle!" said Zaidie.
"They don't seem to have taken much interest in us so far. Perhaps they
haven't been able to see properly, but suppose they were attracted by
the light and began crowding round us and fastening on to us, as the
horrible things do with each other. What should we do then? They might
drag us down and perhaps keep us there; but there's one thing, they'd
never eat us, because we could keep closed up and die respectably
together."

"Not much fear of that, little woman," he said, "we're too strong for
them. Hardened steel and toughened glass ought to be more than a match
for a lot of exaggerated jelly-fish like these," said Redgrave, as he
switched on the head searchlight. "We've come here to see strange things
and we may as well see them. Ah, would you, my friend. No, this is not
one of your sort, and it isn't meant to eat."

An enormous double-headed monster, apparently some four hundred feet
long, came floating towards them as the searchlight flashed out, and
others began instantly to crowd about them, just as Zaidie had feared.

"Lenox, for Heaven's sake be careful!" cried Zaidie, shrinking up beside
him as the huge, hideous head, with its saucer eyes and enormous
beak-like jaws wide open, came towards them. "And look! there are more
coming. Can't we go up and get away from them?"

"Wait a minute, little woman," replied Redgrave, who was beginning to
feel the passion of adventure thrilling along his nerves. "If we fought
the Martian air fleet and licked it I think we can manage these things.
Let's see how he likes the light."

As he spoke he flashed the full glare of the five thousand candle-power
lamp full on to the creature's great cat-like eyes. Instantly it bent
itself up into an arc. The two heads, each the exact image of the other,
came together. The four eyes glared half-dazzled into the conning-tower,
and the four fearful jaws snapped viciously together.

"Lenox, Lenox, for goodness' sake let us go up!" cried Zaidie, shrinking
still closer to him. "That thing's too horrible to look at."

"It is a beast, isn't it?" he said; "but I think we can cut him in two
without much trouble."

He signalled for full speed. The _Astronef_ ought to have sprung forward
and driven her ram through the huge, brick-red body of the hideous
creature which was now only a couple of hundred yards from them; but
instead of that a slow, jarring, grinding thrill seemed to run through
her, and she stopped. The next moment Murgatroyd put his head up through
the companion-way which led from the upper deck to the conning-tower,
and said, in a tone whose calm indicated, as usual, resignation to the
worst that could happen:

"My Lord, two of those beasts, fishes or live balloons, or whatever they
are, have come across the propellers. They're cut up a good bit, but
I've had to stop the engines, and they're clinging all round the after
part. We're going down, too. Shall I disconnect the propellers and turn
on the repulsion?"

"Yes, certainly, Andrew!" cried Zaidie, "and all of it, too. Look,
Lenox, that horrible thing is coming. Suppose it broke the glass, and we
couldn't breathe this atmosphere!"

As she spoke the enormous, double-headed body advanced until it
completely enveloped the forward part of the _Astronef_. The two hideous
heads came close to the sides of the conning-tower; the huge, palely
luminous eyes looked in upon them. Zaidie, in her terror, even thought
that she saw something like human curiosity in them.

[Illustration: _The huge palely luminous eyes looked in upon them._]

Then, as Murgatroyd disappeared to obey the orders which Redgrave had
sanctioned with a quick nod, the heads approached still closer, and she
heard the ends of the pointed jaws, which she now saw were armed with
shark-like teeth, striking against the thick glass walls of the
conning-tower.

"Don't be frightened, dear!" he said, putting his arm round her, just as
he had done when they thought they were falling into the fiery seas of
Jupiter. "You'll see something happen to this gentleman soon. Big and
all as he is there won't be much left of him in a few minutes. They are
like those monsters they found in the lowest depths of our own seas.
They can only live under tremendous pressure. That's why we didn't find
any of them up above. This chap'll burst like a bubble presently.
Meanwhile, there's no use in stopping here. Suppose you go below and
brew some coffee and bring it up on deck while I go and see how things
are looking aft. It doesn't do you any good, you know, to be looking at
monsters of this sort. You can see what's left of them later on. You
might bring the cognac decanter up too."

Zaidie was not at all sorry to obey him, for the horrible sight had
almost sickened her.

They were still under the arch of the rings, and so, when the full
strength of the R. Force was directed against the body of Saturn, the
vessel sprang upwards like a projectile fired from a cannon.

Redgrave went back into the conning-tower to see what happened to their
assailant. It was already trying to detach itself and sink back into a
more congenial element. As the pressure of the atmosphere decreased its
huge body swelled up into still huger proportions. The scaly skin on the
two heads and necks puffed up as though air was being pumped in under
it. The great eyes protruded out of their sockets; the jaws opened
widely as though the creature were gasping for breath.

Meanwhile Murgatroyd was seeing something very similar at the after end,
and wondering what was going to happen to his propellers, the blades of
which were deeply imbedded in the jelly-like flesh of the monsters.

The _Astronef_ leaped higher and higher, and the hideous bodies which
were clinging to her swelled out huger and huger. Redgrave even fancied
that he heard something like the cries of pain from both heads on either
side of the conning-tower. They passed through the inner cloud-veil, and
then the _Astronef_ began to turn on her axis, and, just as the outer
envelope came into view the enormously distended bulk of the monsters
collapsed, and their fragments, seeming now like the tatters of a burst
balloon than portions of a once living creature, dropped from the body
of the _Astronef_, and floated away down into what had been their native
element.

"Difference of environment means a lot, after all," said Redgrave to
himself. "I should have called that either a lie or a miracle if I
hadn't seen it, and I'm jolly glad I sent Zaidie down below."

"Here's your coffee, Lenox," said her voice from the upper deck the next
moment, "only it doesn't seem to want to stop in the cups, and the cups
keep getting off the saucers. I suppose we're turning upside down
again."

Redgrave stepped somewhat gingerly on to the deck, for his body had so
little weight under the double attraction of Saturn and the Rings that a
very slight effort would have sent him flying up to the roof of the
deck-chamber.

"That's exactly as you please," he said, "just hold that table steady a
minute. We shall have our centre of gravity back soon. And now, as to
the main question, suppose we take a trip across the sunlit hemisphere
of Saturn to, what I suppose we should call on Earth, the South Pole. We
can get resistance from the Rings, and as we are here we may as well see
what the rest of Saturn is like. You see, if our theory is correct as to
the Rings gathering up most of the atmosphere of Saturn about its
equator, we shall get to higher latitudes where the air is thinner and
more like our own, and therefore it's quite possible that we shall find
different forms of life in it too--or if you've had enough of Saturn and
would prefer a trip to Uranus----"

"No, thanks," said Zaidie quickly. "To tell you the truth, Lenox, I've
had almost enough star-wandering for one honeymoon, and though we've
seen nice things as well as horrible things--especially those ghastly,
slimy creatures down there--I'm beginning to feel a bit homesick for
good old Mother Earth. You see, we're nearly a thousand million miles
from home, and, even with you, it makes one feel a bit lonely. I vote we
explore the rest of this hemisphere up to the pole, and then, as they
say at sea--I mean our sea--'bout ship, and try if we can find our own
old world again. After all, it _is_ more homelike than any of these,
isn't it?"

"Just take our telescope and look at it," said Redgrave, pointing
towards the Sun, with its little cluster of attendant planets. "It looks
something like one of Jupiter's little moons down there, doesn't it,
only not quite as big?"

"Yes, it does, but that doesn't matter. The fact is that it's there, and
we know what it's like, and it's _home_, if it _is_ a thousand million
miles away, and that's everything."

By this time they had passed through the outer band of clouds. The vast,
sunlit arch of the Rings towered up to the zenith, apparently spanning
the whole visible heavens. Below and in front of them lay the enormous
semicircle of the hemisphere which was turned towards the Sun, shrouded
by its many-coloured bands of clouds. The R. Force was directed strongly
against the lower ring, and the _Astronef_ descended rapidly in a
slanting direction through the cloud-bands towards the southern
temperate zone of the planet.

They passed through the second, or dark, cloud-band at the rate of about
three thousand miles an hour, aided by the repulsion against the Rings
and the attraction of the planets, and soon after lunch, the materials
of which now consented to remain on the table, they passed through the
clouds and found themselves in a new world of wonders.

On a far vaster scale, it was the Earth during that period of its
development which is called the Reptilian Age. The atmosphere was still
dense and loaded with aqueous vapour, but the waters had already been
divided from the land.

They passed over vast, marshy continents and islands, and warm seas,
above which thin clouds of steam still hung, and as they swept southward
with the propellers working at their utmost speed they caught glimpses
of giant forms rising out of the steamy waters near the land, of others
crawling slowly over it, dragging their huge bulk through a tremendous
vegetation, which they crushed down as they passed, as a sheep on Earth
might push its way through a field of standing corn.

Other and even stranger shapes, broad-winged and ungainly, fluttered
with a slow, bat-like motion through the lower strata of the atmosphere.

Every now and then during the voyage across the temperate zone the
propellers were slowed down to enable them to witness some Titanic
conflict between the gigantic denizens of land and sea and air. But
Zaidie had had enough of horrors on the Saturnian equator, and so she
was content to watch this phase of evolution working itself out (as it
had done on the Earth thousands of ages ago) from a convenient distance.
Wherefore the _Astronef_ sped on without approaching the surface nearer
than was necessary to get a clear general view.

"It'll be all very nice to see and remember and dream about afterwards,"
she said, "but I don't think I can stand any more monsters just now, at
least not at close quarters, and I'm quite sure that if those things can
live there we couldn't, any more than we could have lived on Earth a
million years or so ago. No, really I don't want to land, Lenox; let's
go on."

They went on at a speed of about a hundred miles an hour, and, as they
progressed southward, both the atmosphere and the landscape rapidly
changed. The air grew clearer and the clouds lighter. Land and sea were
more sharply divided, and both teeming with life. The seas still swarmed
with serpentine monsters of the saurian type, and the firmer lands were
peopled by huge animals, mastodons, bears, giant tapirs, mylodons,
deinotheriums, and a score of other species too strange for them to
recognise by any Earthly likeness, which roamed in great herds through
the vast twilit forests and over boundless plains covered with grey-blue
vegetation.

Here, too, they found mountains for the first time on Saturn; mountains
steep-sided, and many Earth-miles high.

As the _Astronef_ was skirting the side of one of these ranges Redgrave
allowed it to approach more closely than he had so far done to the
surface of Saturn.

"I shouldn't wonder if we found some of the higher forms of life up
here," he said. "If there is any kind of being that is going to develop
some day into the human race of Saturn it would naturally get up here."

"I should hope so," said Zaidie, "and just as far as possible out of the
reach of those unutterable horrors on the equator. That would be one of
the first signs they would show of superior intelligence. Look! I
believe there are some of them. Do you see those holes in the
mountain-side there? And there they are, something like gorillas, only
twice as big, and up the trees, too--and what trees! They must be seven
or eight hundred feet high."

"Tree-men and cave-dwellers, and ancestors of the future royal race of
Saturn, I suppose!" said Redgrave. "They don't look very nice, do they?
Still, there's no doubt about their being far superior in intelligence
to those other brutes we saw. Evidently this atmosphere is too thin for
the two-headed jelly-fishes and the saurians to breathe. These creatures
have found that out in a few hundreds of generations, and so they have
come to live up here out of the way. Vegetarians, I suppose, or perhaps
they live on smaller monkeys and other animals, just as our ancestors
did."

"Really, Lenox," said Zaidie, turning round and facing him, "I must say
that you have a most unpleasant way of alluding to one's ancestors. They
couldn't help what they were."

"Well, dear," he said, going towards her, "marvellous as the miracle
seems, I'm heretic enough to believe it possible that your ancestors
even, millions of years ago, perhaps, may have been something like
those; but then, of course, you know I'm a hopeless Darwinian."

"And, therefore, entirely horrid, as I've often said before, when you
get on subjects like these. Not, of course, that I'm ashamed of my poor
relations; and then, after all, your Darwin was quite wrong when he
talked about the descent of man--and woman. We--especially the
women--have _as_cended from that sort of thing, if there's any truth in
the story at all; though, personally, I must say I prefer dear old
Mother Eve."

"Who never had a sweeter daughter than----!" he replied, drawing her
towards him.

"Very prettily put, my Lord," she laughed, releasing herself with a
gentle twirl; "and now I'll go and get dinner ready. After all, it
doesn't matter what world one's in, one gets hungry all the same."

The dinner, which was eaten somewhere in the middle of the
fifteen-year-long day of Saturn, was a more than usually pleasant one,
because they were now nearing the turning-point of their trip into the
depths of Space, and thoughts of home and friends were already beginning
to fly back across the thousand-million-mile gulf which lay between them
and the Earth which they had left only a little more than two months
ago.

While they were at dinner the _Astronef_ rose above the mountains and
resumed her southward course. Zaidie brought the coffee up on deck as
usual after dinner, and, while Redgrave smoked his cigar and Zaidie her
cigarette, they luxuriated in the magnificent spectacle of the sunlit
side of the Rings towering up, rainbow built on rainbow, to the zenith
of their visible heavens.

"What a pity there aren't any words to describe it!" said Zaidie. "I
wonder if the descendants of the ancestors of the future human race on
Saturn will invent anything like a suitable language. I wonder how
they'll talk about those Rings millions of years hence."

"By that time there may not be any Rings," Lenox replied, blowing one of
blue smoke from his own lips. "Look at that--made in a moment and gone
in a moment--and yet on exactly the same principle, it gives one a dim
idea of the difference between time and eternity. After all it's only
another example of Kelvin's theory of vortices. Nebulæ, and asteroids,
and planet-rings, and smoke-rings are really all made on the same
principle."

"My dear Lenox, if you're going to get as philosophical and as
commonplace as that, I'm going to bed. Now that I come to think of it,
I've been up about fifteen Earth-hours, so it's about time I went and
had a sleep. It's your turn to make the coffee in the morning--our
morning, I mean--and you'll wake me in time to see the South Pole of
Saturn, won't you? You're not coming yet, I suppose?"

"Not just yet, dear. I want to see a bit more of this, and then I must
go through the engines and see that they're all right and ready for that
thousand million mile homeward voyage you're talking about. You can have
a good ten hours' sleep without missing much, I think, for there doesn't
seem to be anything more interesting than our own Arctic life down
there. So good-night, little woman, and don't have too many nightmares."

"Good-night!" she said; "if you hear me shout you'll know that you're to
come and protect me from monsters. Weren't those two-headed brutes just
too horrid for words? Good-night, dear!"



CHAPTER XIX


A little before six (Earth time) on the fourth morning after they had
cleared the confines of the Saturnian System, Redgrave went as usual
into the conning-tower to examine the instruments, and to see that
everything was in order. To his intense surprise he found, on looking at
the gravitational compass, which was to the _Astronef_ what the ordinary
compass is to a ship at sea, that the vessel was a long way out of her
course.

Such a thing had never yet occurred. Up to now the _Astronef_ had obeyed
the laws of gravitation and repulsion with absolute exactness. He made
another examination of the instruments; but no, all were in perfect
order.

"I wonder what the deuce is the matter," he said, after he had looked
for a few moments with frowning eyes at the multitude of orbs ahead. "By
Jove, we're swinging more. This is getting serious."

He went back to the compass. The long, slender needle was slowly
swinging farther and farther out of the middle line of the vessel.

"There can only be two explanations of that," he went on, thrusting his
hands deep into his trousers pockets; "either the engines are not
working properly, or some enormous and invisible body is pulling us
towards it out of our course. Let's have a look at the engines first."

When he reached the engine-room he said to Murgatroyd, who was indulging
in his usual pastime of cleaning and polishing his beloved charges:

"Have you noticed anything wrong during the last hour or so,
Murgatroyd?"

"No, my Lord; at least not so far as concerns the engines. They're all
right. Hark, now, they're not making more noise than a lady's sewing
machine," replied the old Yorkshireman, with a note of resentment in his
voice. The suspicion that anything could be wrong with his shining
darlings was almost a personal offence to him. "But is anything the
matter, my Lord, if I might ask?"

"We're a long way off our course, and for the life of me I can't
understand it," replied Redgrave. "There's nothing about here to pull us
out of our line. Of course the stars--good Lord, I never thought of
that! Look here, Murgatroyd, not a word about this to her ladyship, and
stand by to raise the power by degrees, as I signal to you."

"Ay, my lord. I hope it's nothing bad!"

Redgrave went back to the conning-tower without replying. The only
possible solution of the mystery of the deviation had suddenly dawned
upon him, and a very serious solution it was. He remembered there were
such things as dead suns--the derelicts of the Ocean of Space--vast,
invisible orbs, lightless and lifeless, too distant from any living sun
to be illumined by its rays, and yet exercising the only force left to
them--the force of attraction. Might not one of these have wandered near
enough to the confines of the Solar System to exert this force, a force
of absolutely unknown magnitude, upon the _Astronef_?

He went to the desk beside the instrument-table and plunged into a maze
of mathematics, of masses and weights, angles and distances. Half an
hour later he stood looking at the last symbol on the last sheet of
paper with something like fear. It was the fatal _x_ which remained to
satisfy the last equation, the unknown quantity which represented the
unseen force that was dragging them into the outer wilderness of
insterstellar space, into far-off regions from which, with the remaining
force at his disposal, no return would be possible.

He signalled to Murgatroyd to increase the development of the R. Force
from a tenth to a fifth. Then he went to the lower saloon, where Zaidie
was busy with her usual morning tidy-up. Now that the mystery was
explained there was no reason to keep her in the dark. Indeed, he had
given her his word that he would conceal from her no danger, however
great, that might threaten them when he had once assured himself of its
existence.

She listened to him in silence and without a sign of fear beyond a
little lifting of the eyelids and a little fading of the colour in her
cheeks.

"And if we can't resist this force," she said, when he had finished, "it
will drag us millions--perhaps millions of millions--of miles away from
our own system into outer space, and we shall either fall on the surface
of this dead sun and be reduced to a puff of lighted gas in an instant,
or some other body will pull us away from it, and then another away from
that, and so on, and we shall wander among the stars for ever and ever
until the end of time!"

"If the first happens, darling, we shall die--together--without knowing
it. It's the second that I'm most afraid of. The _Astronef_ may go on
wandering among the stars for ever--but we have only water enough for
three weeks more. Now come into the conning-tower and we'll see how
things are going."

As they bent their heads over the instrument-table Redgrave saw that the
remorseless needle had moved two degrees more to the right. The keel of
the _Astronef_, under the impulse of the R. Force, was continually
turning. The pull of the invisible orb was dragging her slowly but
irresistibly out of her line.

"There's nothing for it but this," said Redgrave, putting out his hand
to the signal-board, and signalling to Murgatroyd to put the engines to
their highest capacity. "You see, dear, our greatest danger is this: we
had to exert such a tremendous lot of power getting away from Jupiter
and Saturn, that we haven't any too much to spare, and if we have to
spend it in counteracting the pull of this dead sun, or whatever it is,
we may not have enough of what I call the R. fluid left to get home
with."

"I see," she said, staring with wide-open eyes at the needle. "You mean
that we may not have enough to keep us from falling into one of the
planets or perhaps into the Sun itself. Well, supposing the dangers are
equal, this one is the nearest, and so I guess we've got to fight it
first."

"Spoken like a good American!" he said, putting his arm across her
shoulders and looking at once with infinite pride and infinite regret at
the calm, proud face which the glory of resignation had adorned with a
new beauty.

She bowed her head and then looked away again so that he should not see
that there were tears in her eyes. He took his hand from her shoulder
and stared in silence down at the needle. It was stationary again.

"We've stopped!" he said, after a pause of several moments. "Now, if the
body that's taken us out of our course is moving away from us we win, if
it's coming towards us we lose. At any rate, we've done all we can. Come
along, Zaidie, let's go and have a walk on deck."

They had scarcely reached the upper deck when something happened which
dwarfed all the other experiences of their marvellous voyage into utter
insignificance.

Above and around them the constellations blazed with a splendour
inconceivable to an observer on Earth, but ahead of them gaped the vast,
black void which sailors call "the Coal Hole," and in which the most
powerful telescopes have only discovered a few faintly luminous bodies.
Suddenly, out of the midst of this infinity of darkness, there blazed a
glare of almost intolerably brilliant radiance. Instantly the forward
end of the _Astronef_ was bathed in light and heat--the light and heat
of a re-created sun, whose elements had been dark and cold for uncounted
ages.

Hundreds of tiny points of light, unknown worlds which had been dark for
myriads of years, twinkled out of the blackness. Then the fierce glare
grew dimmer. A vast mantle of luminous mist spread out with
inconceivable rapidity, and in the midst of this blazed the central
nucleus--the sun which in far-off ages to come would be the giver of
light and heat, of life and beauty to worlds unborn, to planets which
were now only little eddies of atoms whirling in that ocean of nebulous
flame.

For more than an hour the two wanderers from the far-off Earth stood
motionless and silent, gazing on the indescribable splendours of the
fearfully magnificent spectacle before them. Every mundane thought
seemed burnt out of their souls by the glory and the wonder of it. It
was almost as though they were standing in the very presence of God.
Indeed, were they not witnessing the supreme act of Omnipotence, a new
creation? Their peril, a peril such as had never threatened mortals
before, was utterly forgotten. They had even forgotten each other's
presence. For the time being they existed only to look and to wonder.

They were called at length out of their trance by the matter-of-fact
voice of Murgatroyd saying--

"My Lord, she's back to her course. Will I keep the power on full?"

"Eh! What's that?" exclaimed Redgrave, as they both turned quickly
round. "Oh, it's you, Murgatroyd. The power? Yes, keep it on full till I
have taken the bearings."

"Ay, my Lord, very good," replied the engineer.

As he left the deck Redgrave put his arm round Zaidie and drew her
gently towards him and said, "Zaidie, truly you are favoured among
women! You have seen the beginning of a new creation. You will certainly
be saved somehow after that."

"Yes, and you too, dear," she murmured, as though still half-dreaming.
"It is very glorious and wonderful; but what is it all--I mean, what is
the explanation of it?"

"The merely scientific explanation, dear, is very simple. I see it all
now. The force that was dragging us out of our course was the united
pull of two dead stars approaching each other in the same orbit. They
may have been doing that for millions of years. The shock of their
meeting has transformed their motion into light and heat. They have
united to form a single sun and a nebula, which will some day condense
into a system of planets like ours. To-night the astronomers on Earth
will discover a new star--a variable star as they'll call it--for it
will grow dimmer as it moves away from our system. It has often happened
before."

Then they turned back to the conning-tower.

The needle had swung to its old position. The new star, henceforth to be
known in the annals of astronomy as Lilla-Zaidie, had already set for
them to the right of the _Astronef_ and risen on the left, and, at a
distance of more than nine hundred million miles from the Earth, the
corner was turned, and the homeward voyage began.



CHAPTER XX


A week later they crossed the path of Jupiter, but the giant was
invisible, far away on the other side of the Sun. Redgrave laid his
course so as to avail himself to the utmost of the "pull" of the planets
without going near enough to them to be compelled to exert too much of
the priceless R. Force, which the indicators showed to be running
perilously low.

Between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars they made a most valuable economy
by landing on Ceres, one of the largest of the asteroids, and travelling
about fifty million miles on her towards the orbit of the Earth without
any expenditure of force whatever. They found that the tiny world
possessed a breathable atmosphere and a fluid resembling water, but
nearly as dense as mercury. A couple of flasks of it form the greatest
treasures of the British Museum and the National Museum at Washington.
The vegetable world was represented by coarse grass, lichens, and dwarf
shrubs, and the animal by different species of worms, lizards, flies,
and small burrowing animals of the rodent type.

As the orbit of Ceres, like that of the other asteroids, is considerably
inclined to that of the Earth, the _Astronef_ rose from its surface when
the plane of the Earth's revolution was reached, and the glittering
swarm of miniature planets plunged away into space beneath them.

"Where to now?" said Zaidie, as her husband came down on deck from the
conning-tower.

"I am going to try to steer a middle course between the orbits of
Mercury and Venus," he replied. "They just happen to be so placed now
that we ought to be able to get the advantage of the pull of both of
them as we pass, and that will save us a lot of power. The only thing
I'm afraid of is the pull of the Sun, equal to goodness knows how many
times the attraction of all the planets put together. You see, little
woman, it's like this," he went on, taking out a pencil and going down
on one knee on the deck: "Here's the _Astronef_; there's Venus; there's
Mercury; there's the Sun; and there, away on the other side of him, is
Mother Earth. If we can turn that corner safely and without expending
too much power we ought to be all right."

"And if we can't, what will happen?"

"It will be a choice between morphine and cremation in the atmosphere of
the Sun, dear, or rather gradually roasting as we fall towards it."

"Then, of course, it will be morphine," she said quite quietly, as she
turned away from his diagram and looked at the now fast-increasing disc
of the Sun. A well-balanced mind speedily becomes accustomed even to the
most terrible perils, and Zaidie had now looked this one so long and so
steadily in the face that for her it had already become merely the
choice between two forms of death with just a chance of escape hidden in
the closed hand of Fate.

Thirty-six Earth-hours later the glorious golden disc of Venus lay broad
and bright beneath them. Above was the blazing orb of the Sun, nearly
half as big again as it appears from the Earth, with Mercury, a round
black spot, travelling slowly across it.

"My dear Bird-Folk!" said Zaidie, looking down at the lovely world below
them. "If home wasn't home----"

"We can be back among them in a few hours with absolute safety,"
interrupted her husband, catching at the suggestion. "I've told you the
truth about the bare possibility of getting back to the Earth. It's only
a chance at best, and even if we pass the Sun we may not have force
enough left to prevent the _Astronef_ from being smashed to dust or
burnt up in the atmosphere. After all we might do worse----"

"What would you do if you were alone, Lenox?" she said, interrupting him
in turn.

"I should take my chance and go on. After all home's home and worth a
struggle. But you, dear----"

"I'm you, and so I take the same chances as you do. Besides, we're not
perfect enough for a world where there isn't any sin. We should probably
get quite miserable there. No, home's home, as you say."

"Then home it is, dear!" he replied.

The resplendent hemisphere of the Love-Star sank swiftly down into the
vault of Space, growing smaller and dimmer as the _Astronef_ sped
towards the little black spot on the face of the Sun, which to them was
like a buoy marking a place of utter and hopeless shipwreck in the Ocean
of Immensity.

The chronometer, still set to Earth-time, had now begun to mark the last
hours of the _Astronef's_ voyage. She was not only travelling at a speed
of which figures could give no comprehensible idea, but the Sun,
Mercury, and the Earth were rushing towards her with a compound
velocity, composed of the movement of the Solar System through Space and
of the movement of the two planets round the Sun.

Murgatroyd was at his post in the engine-room. Redgrave and Zaidie had
gone into the conning-tower, perhaps for the last time. For good fortune
or evil, for life or death, they would see the end of the voyage
together.

"How far yet, dear?" she said, as Venus began to slip away behind them,
rising like a splendid moon in their wake.

"Only sixty million miles or so, a matter of a few hours, more or
less--it all depends," he replied, without taking his eyes off the
compass.

"Sixty millions! Why I feel almost at home again."

"But we have to turn the corner of the street yet, dear, and after that
there's a fall of more than twenty-five million miles on to the more or
less kindly breast of Mother Earth."

"A fall! It does sound rather awful when you put it that way; but I am
not going to let you frighten me. I believe Mother Earth will receive
her wandering children quite as kindly as they deserve."

The moon-like disc of Venus grew swiftly smaller, and the black spot on
the face of the Sun larger and larger as the _Astronef_ rushed silently
and imperceptibly, and yet with almost inconceivable velocity towards
doom or fortune. Neither Zaidie nor Redgrave spoke again for nearly
three hours--hours which to them seemed to pass like so many minutes.
Their eyes were fixed on the black disc of Mercury, which, as they
approached it, expanded with magical rapidity till it completely
eclipsed the blazing orb behind it. Their thoughts were far away on the
still invisible Earth and all the splendid possibilities that it held
for two young lives like theirs.

As the sunlight vanished they looked at each other in the golden
moonlight of Venus, and Zaidie let her head rest for a moment on her
husband's shoulder. Then a swiftly broadening gleam of light shot out
from behind the black circle of Mercury. The first crisis had come.
Redgrave put out his hand to the signal-board and rang for full power.
The planet seemed to swing round as the _Astronef_ rushed into the
blaze. In a few minutes it passed through the phases from "new" to
"full." Venus became eclipsed in turn as they swung between Mercury and
the Sun, and then Redgrave, after a rapid glance to either side, said:

"If we can only keep the two pulls balanced we shall do it. That will
keep us in a straight line, and our own momentum ought to carry us into
the Earth's attraction."

Zaidie did not reply. She was shading her eyes with her hand from the
almost intolerable brilliance of the Sun's rays, and looking straight
ahead to catch the first glimpse of the silver-grey orb. Her husband
read her thoughts and respected them. But a few minutes later he
startled her out of her dream of home by exclaiming:

"Good God, we're turning!"

"What do you say, dear? Turning what?"

"On our own centre. Look! I'm afraid only a miracle can save us now,
darling."

She glanced to the left-hand side where he was pointing. The Sun, no
longer now a sun, but a vast ocean of flame filling nearly a third of
the vault of Space, was sinking beneath them. On the right Mercury was
rising. Zaidie knew only too well what this meant. It meant that the
keel of the _Astronef_ was being dragged out of the straight line which
would cut the Earth's orbit some forty million miles away. It meant
that, in spite of the exertion of the full power that the engines could
develop, they had begun to fall into the Sun.

Redgrave laid his hand on hers, and their eyes met. There was no need
for words. Perhaps speech just then would have been impossible. In that
mute glance each looked into the other's soul and was content. Then he
left the conning-tower, and Zaidie dropped on to her knees before the
instrument-table and laid her forehead upon her clasped hands.

Her husband went to the saloon, unlocked a little cupboard in the wall
and took out a blue bottle of corrugated glass labelled "Morphine,
Poison." He took another empty bottle of white glass and measured fifty
drops into it. Then he went to the engine-room and said abruptly:

"Murgatroyd, I'm afraid it's all up with us. We're falling into the
Sun, and you know what that means. In a few hours the _Astronef_ will be
red-hot. So it's roasting alive--or this. I recommend this."

"And what might that be, my Lord?" said the old engineer, looking at the
bottle which his master held out towards him.

"That's morphine--poison. Fill that up with water, drink it, and in half
an hour you'll be dead without knowing it. Of course, you won't take it
until there's absolutely no hope; but, granted that, you'll find this a
better death than roasting or baking alive." Then his voice changed
suddenly as he went on, "Of course, I need not say now, Murgatroyd, how
deeply I regret now that I asked you to come in the _Astronef_."

"My Lord, my people have served yours for seven hundred years, and,
whether on Earth or among the stars, where you go it is my duty to go
also. But don't ask me to take the poison. It is not for me to say that
a journey like this is tempting Providence, but, by my lights, if I am
to die I shall die the death that Providence in its wisdom sends."

"I daresay you're right in one way, Murgatroyd, but it's no time to
argue about beliefs now. There's the bottle. Do as you think right. And
now, in case the miracle doesn't happen, goodbye."

"Goodbye, my Lord, if it is to be," replied the old Yorkshireman, taking
the hand which Redgrave held out to him. "I'll keep the power on to the
last, I suppose?"

"Yes, you may as well. If it doesn't keep us away from the Sun it won't
be much use to us in two or three hours."

He left the engine-room and went back to the conning-tower. Zaidie was
still on her knees. Beneath and around them the awful gulf of flame was
broadening and deepening. Mercury was rising higher and growing smaller.
He put the bottle down on the table and waited. Then Zaidie looked up.
Her eyes were clear, and her face was perfectly calm. She rose and put
her arm through his, and said:

"Well, is there any hope, dear? There can't be now, can there? Is that
the morphine?"

"Yes," he replied, slipping his arm beneath hers and round her waist.
"I'm afraid there's not much chance now, little woman. We're using up
the last of the power, and you see----"

As he said this he looked at the thermometer. The mercury had risen from
65 degrees Fahrenheit, the normal temperature of the interior of the
_Astronef_, to 93 degrees, and during the half-minute that he watched it
rose another degree. There was no mistaking such a warning as that. He
had brought two little liqueur glasses in his pocket from the saloon. He
divided the morphine between them, and filled them up with water.

"Not until the last moment, dear," said Zaidie, as he set one of them
before her. "We have no right to do it until then."

"Very well. When the mercury reaches a hundred and fifty. After that it
will go up ten and fifteen degrees at a jump, and we----"

"Yes, at a hundred and fifty," she replied, cutting short a speech she
dared not hear the end of. "I understand. It will be impossible to hope
any more."

Now, side by side, they stood and watched the thermometer.

Ninety-five--ninety-eight--a hundred and three--a hundred and
ten--eighteen--twenty-four--thirty-two--forty-one.

The silent minutes passed, and with each the silver thread--for them the
thread of life--grew, with strange contradiction, longer and longer, and
with every minute it grew more quickly.

A hundred and forty-six.

With his right arm Redgrave drew Zaidie still closer to him. He put out
his left hand and took up the little glass. She did the same.

"Goodbye, dear, till we have slept and wake again!"

"Goodbye, darling, God grant that we may!" But the agony of that last
farewell was more than Zaidie could bear. She looked away at the little
glass in her hand, a hand which even now did not tremble. Then she
raised her eyes again to take one last look at the glory of the stars,
and at the Fate Incarnate in Flame which lay beneath them. Then, even as
the end of the last minute came, a cry broke through her white,
half-parted lips:

"The Earth, the Earth--thank God, the Earth!"

With the hand that held the draught of Lethe--which in another moment
she would have swallowed--she caught at her husband's hand, pulled the
glass out of it, and then with a little sigh she dropped senseless on
the floor of the conning-tower. Redgrave looked for a moment in the
direction that her eyes had taken. A pale, silver-grey crescent, with a
little white spot near it, was rising out of the blackness beyond the
edge of the solar ocean of flame. Home was in sight at last, but would
they reach it--and how?

He picked her up and carried her to their room and laid her on the bed.
Then he went to the medicine chest again, this time for a very different
purpose.

An hour later, they were on the upper deck with their telescopes turned
on to the rapidly growing crescent of the Home-World, which, in its
eternal march through Space, had come into the line of direct attraction
just in time to turn the scale in which the lives of the Space-voyagers
were trembling. The higher it rose, the bigger and broader and brighter
it grew, and, at last, Zaidie--forgetting in her transport of joy all
the perils that were yet to come--sprang to her feet and clapped her
hands, and cried:

"There's America!"

Then she dropped back into her long deck-chair and began a good, hearty,
healthy cry.



EPILOGUE


There is little now to be told that all the world does not already know
as well as it knows the circumstances of Lord and Lady Redgrave's
departure from the Earth, at the beginning of that marvellous voyage,
that desperate plunge into the unknown immensities of Space which began
so happily, and yet with so many grave misgivings in the hearts of their
friends, and which, after passing many perils, the adventurous voyagers
finished even more happily than they had begun.

As I said at the beginning of this narrative the sole purpose of writing
it has been to place before the reading public an account of the
adventures experienced by Lord Redgrave and his beautiful Countess from
the time of their departure from the Earth to the hour of their return
to it. Therefore there is no need to re-tell a tale already told, and
one that has been read and re-read a thousand times. Every one who has
read his or her newspaper from Chamskatska to Cape Horn, and from Alaska
to South Australia, knows how the Commander of the _Astronef_ so nursed
the remains which were left to him of the R. Force after overcoming the
attraction of the Sun, that he was able to steer an oblique course
between the Moon and the Earth, and to counteract what Zaidie called the
all too-loving attraction of the Mother Planet, and, after sixty hours
of agonising suspense, at last re-entered their native atmosphere.

The expenditure of the last few units of the R. Force enabled them to
just clear the summits of the Bolivian Andes, to cross the foothills and
western slopes of Peru, and finally to let the _Astronef_ drop quietly
on to the bosom of the broad Pacific about twenty miles westward of the
Port of Mollendo.

All this time thousands of anxious eyes had been peering through
telescopes every night in quest of the wanderers who must now be
returning if ever they were to return, and a reward of ten thousand
dollars, offered conjointly by the British and United States Governments
for the first authentic tidings of the _Astronef_, was won by a smart
young Californian, who was Assistant Astronomer at the Harvard
University Observatory at Arequipa.

One night when he was on duty watching a lunar occultation, he saw
something sweep across the disc of the full moon just as the captain and
officers of the _St. Louis_ had seen that same something sweep across
the disc of the rising sun. What else could it be if not the _Astronef_?
He rang for another assistant to go on with the occultation, and wired
down to the coast requesting the British Consul at Mollendo to look out
for an arrival from the skies.

Three hours later the gleam of an electric searchlight flickered down
over the huge black cone of the Misti, and by dawn the next morning one
of Her Majesty's cruisers--most appropriately named _Astræa_--attached
to the Pacific Squadron then _en route_ from Lima to Valparaiso, steamed
out westward from Mollendo and found the long, shining hull of the
_Astronef_ waiting quietly on the unrippled rollers of the Pacific, and
Lord and Lady Redgrave having breakfast in the deck-chamber.

Compliments and congratulations having been duly exchanged, she was
taken in tow by the cruiser, and so reached Valparaiso. Here she lay for
a few days while the wires of the world were being kept hot with
telegraphic accounts of her return to Earth, and while her Commander,
with the assistance of the officers of the National Laboratory, was
replenishing his stock of the R. Fluid from the chemicals which they had
placed at his disposal.

It would, of course, have been quite possible for him and Zaidie to have
taken steamer northward to Panama, crossed the Isthmus, and returned to
New York and Washington _viâ_ Jamaica. The British Admiral even offered
to place his fastest cruiser at their disposal for a run to San
Francisco, whence the Overland Limited would have landed them in New
York in four days and a half, but Zaidie vetoed this as quickly as she
had done the other proposition. If she had her way the _Astronef_ should
go back to Washington as she had left it, by means of her own motive
force, and so, of course, it came to pass.

Even Murgatroyd's grim and homely features seemed irradiated by a glow
of what he afterwards thought unholy pride when he once more stood by
his levers and heard the familiar signal coming from the conning-tower.

"A tenth."

And then--"Stand by steering-gear."

The next moment there was another tinkle in the engine-room.

Redgrave, standing with Zaidie in the conning-tower, moved the
power-wheel through ten degrees, and then to the amazement of tens of
thousands of spectators, the hull of the _Astronef_ rose perpendicularly
from the waters of the Bay. The British Squadron and a detachment of the
Chilian fleet thundered out a salute which was answered a few moments
later by the shore batteries, Redgrave went down into the deck-chamber
and fired twenty-one shots from one of the Maxim-Nordenfelts--the same
with which he had mown down the crowds of Martians in the square of
their great city a hundred and thirty million miles away, and while he
was doing this Zaidie in the conning-tower ran the White Ensign up to
the top of the flagstaff.

Then the glass doors were closed again, the propellers began to revolve
at their utmost speed, and the Space-Navigator with one tremendous leap
cleared the double chain of the Andes and vanished to the
north-eastward.

To describe the reception of Lord and Lady Redgrave when the _Astronef_
dropped a few hours later, on to the very spot in front of the steps of
the Capitol at Washington from which she had risen just four months
before, would only be to repeat what has already been told in the Press
of the world, and especially of the United States, with a far more
luxuriant wealth of detail than could possibly be emulated here. Suffice
it to say that the first human form that Zaidie embraced after her long
wanderings was that of Mrs. Van Stuyler, whom the President of the
United States had escorted to the gangway.

The most marvellous of human adventures become commonplace by
repetition, and Mrs. Van Stuyler had already spent nearly a fortnight
devouring every item, whether of fact or fancy, with which the American
Press had embroidered the adventures of the _Astronef_ and her crew. And
so when the first embracings and emotions were over, all she could find
to say was:

"Well, Zaidie dear, and how did you enjoy it, after all?"

"It was just gorgeous, Mrs. Van, and if there was a more gorgeous word
than that in the American language I'd use it," replied Zaidie, with
another hug, "Why didn't you come? You'd have been--well no, perhaps I'd
better not say what you would have been. But just think of it, or try
to--A honeymoon trip of over two thousand million miles, and
back--safe--thank God!"

As she said this, Zaidie threw her arm over Mrs. Van Stuyler's shoulder,
and drew her away towards the forward end of the deck-chamber. At the
same moment the President's hand met Lord Redgrave's in a long, strong
grip. They didn't say anything just then. Men seldom do under such
circumstances.





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